Since We Last Met…

Those that have been with the Network a long time will remember when the Oilapalooza (nod to Mike Ziccardi for the creative naming) conferences started. This event has grown and evolved, and gone from a (mostly) annual conference to a biennial one. Now during the in-between years, we host our biennial Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit (OWPS). As all of us (and many of you) prep for Oilapalooza, I wanted to revisit last year’s (the 2nd Biennial) Summit.

The goal of the Summit is for Network members to be able to collaborate on reviewing, expanding, and improving OWCN programs. We start by putting out a request for proposals to the Network to find subjects of interest. During the Summit, those who submitted proposals deliver speed talks on their topic. Next, all the attendees choose a project of interest to assist on developing further. From there, Summit attendees and the rest of the Network have the opportunity to join work groups that spend the next year (DEADLINE: Oilapalooza!) developing the projects.

During last year’s Summit 32 of our 43 member organizations sent representatives to participate – in total about 60 people attended. This also included OSPR and UC Davis personnel. Following the speed talks, voting, intense discussions, and lots of scribbled notes on giant poster paper, the group narrowed it down to 5 workgroups:

  • Cross Training & Responder Exchange
  • Training Program Development
  • Evidence Collection and Handling Training
  • OWCN Mentor Research Program
  • Inland Species Taxa Specialists

Each of these workgroups met over the last year to develop their topics, determine their goals, and work toward accomplishing them.

IMG_1182 3With Oilapalooza quickly approaching (next week!) we’ve asked a representative from each group to present on their topic. They each have just a few minutes and a couple slides to talk about what they’ve accomplished and where they want things to go from here. Some groups have completed their tasks, some may have a few things to wrap up, and others may even expand their topic continuing to work well after Oilapalooza (We’re looking at you, Green Team). I don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder, so we’ll post some summaries of the work (or maybe get some guest bloggers on here to show off the workgroups!) after Oilapalooza.


These projects represent a lot of coordination and a lot of work for already busy people. We’re impressed and incredibly appreciative of what they’ve done. The OWCN truly is a Network, and our member organizations are a great resource both during spill-time and during the (relative) calms. Thanks for all you do and a special shout out to these working groups for everything they’ve accomplished!

– Greg Frankfurter


We Built This City

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network takes tremendous pride in its response facilities. Whether the animals at risk include seabirds, sea otters, or sea lions—the facilities and member organizations of the OWCN stand ready to respond to an oil spill at a moment’s notice. But what if the oil spill is in a remote, inland location or hours away from the nearest wildlife care facility? With the OWCN’s recent expansion into inland response, we have been exploring options for building response capacity outside of areas with existing facilities.


Aerial view of the wildlife rehab center during the Rena spill in 2011

Historically, the rehabilitation of oiled wildlife has occurred in rehabilitation centers and sometimes in rented warehouses when rehab centers weren’t an option. However, in recent years, oil spill responders have begun utilizing some of the latest advancements in disaster response sheltering. During the Rena oil spill in 2011, oiled wildlife responders from Massey University in New Zealand erected a series of tents and containers to rehabilitate hundreds of oiled little blue penguins. The OWCN  acquired its first Western Shelter tent in 2006 and has used them for several small response and training events since then.

The adaptability and mobility of our facility options can have a huge impact on a wildlife response. The OWCN has two Facility Trailers which are ready to be deployed to an oil spill within minutes of activation. These trailers contain 6 tents and all of the essential caging and care supplies needed within the first few days of a response.


Intake & Processing Supplies in Facility Trailer #1


Some of the tents and caging in Facility Trailer #2


Additional tents and equipment are deployed in the following days to meet the evolving needs of the response. In total, the OWCN’s response resources include six 19’ x 35’ tents, four 20’ tents, and lots of add-ons to customize the shape, size, and flow the mobile facility. If you’ve attended an OWCN drill, training, or conference in recent years—chances are that you’ve seen one of our tents in action. They are a valuable addition to our response equipment repertoire, but they come with their own unique set of challenges.


Part of the OWCN’s fleet departing Novato: Field Ops Sprinter, Facility Trailers #1 & #2, and our transport vehicle.

One of those challenges is inventorying, identifying, and storing hundreds of parts for what amounts to several tons of tents and accessories. It is crucial that each part be properly labeled and stored so that tent set up can happen rapidly and efficiently during a real incident. This is one of the reasons why we decided to complete a thorough inventory of ALL of the tents and components last week. This Limited Deployment Drill (LDD) of our mobile facility resources took place in Novato where the US Coast Guard Pacific Strike Team generously provided the acreage for our “tent city’s” large footprint.

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Each tent is stored inside of a large, HEAVY metal box that rolls on and off the trailers. Inside the box, the tent components are split into bags of frame parts, vinyl, and electrical accessories. It takes a team of 4-6 people about an hour to set up each tent, but the additional time for inventorying, labeling, and troubleshooting added up and kept us busy for several days. We also color-coded the tents to keep things organized. IMG_1856 IMG_9631









After a few long, grueling set up days the tent city and inventory was complete. We were able to identify a handful of missing parts that we can now acquire before the next response and we have a comprehensive inventory of our tents which enables us to stage them throughout the state and strategize different layouts for a wide variety of response scenarios.

We still face some challenges in our quest for creating the ideal mobile facility:

  • Supplying fast, reliable internet in every location to enable the use of our electronic medical record system
  • Fine-tuning our HVAC systems to keep vulnerable animals at the right temperature
  • Adapting the facility layout to meet the needs of a variety of species in responses of different scales
  • Perfecting the assembly process and inventorying some of the add-ons such as the isolation rooms, and vehicle boot connectors

While there is still much work to be done, we are excited about what these tents mean for oiled wildlife response in remote areas of California.


We’d like to extend a special thank you to Ken Baker from International Bird Rescue and Frank Wilhelm from CDFW-OSPR for coming out to assist with this drill. And a big thank you to the United States Coast Guard Pacific Strike Team for hosting us!


Sam Christie headshot

Sam Christie,                     Care Operations Specialist

Changing Seasons…

Just like the seasons, we must change over time.  The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is reliable based on its foundational, unwavering Network of responders, but we too must incorporate the waves of change as we modernize operations, and adapt to evolving spill response needs.

With that in mind, we took great interest in a recent shared article from our colleagues at NOAA Fisheries, outlining the reemergence of the ‘Blob’ on the West Coast (you can read the full article here). We last saw the formidable foe 5 years ago and witnessed first hand the devastating outcomes of a marine heatwave that lasted longer than expected and disrupted many aspects of our marine ecosystem.


Image Credit: NOAA

This phenomena has the potential to directly affect many of our Member Organizations and their patient loads, as the heatwave can lead to large harmful algal blooms and a shift of prey distribution that can affect numerous coastal species of seabirds and marine mammals.

During the event in 2014/2015, our coastal wildlife struggled with this sharp shift in temperature, leading to a significant rise in standings of Cassin’s auklets in Oregon, and California sea lions in California. This reality, paired with a coastal spill in California in May of 2015, led to the largest number of oiled pinniped patients collected during a spill in OWCN history!

Refugio CSL

California sea lion patient

As a plenary speaker at a recent conference stated, “we must never waste a good crisis”. The knowledge gained in 2015 can and will be utilized today as we prepare for the potential uptick of marine wildlife in distress. In the last few years, we have increased our marine mammal equipment and improved facilities, strengthened our relationships with many marine mammal focused Member Organizations, and contributed to an updated national Pinniped and Cetacean Oil Spill Response Guidelines document.  We are better positioned today thanks to the lessons learned from the past.

So bring it on, Blob…if needed, we are ready!


Scott Buhl – Responder Specialist


Bird at Large on Alcatraz Island!

With Wendy up on the ladder, her head was almost level with the edge of the wall. Above her on the hillside, sat our target: a juvenile western gull with a fishing lure stuck in its beak. As I stood below the ladder with a hand net, she slowly raised the Super Talon net gun up over the edge of the wall and pointed it in the direction of the bird and its parents. She pressed the button on the net and BOOM! The net shot out of the barrel. Right when the net went off, our target bird took off and ran up the hill. We just missed the bird we were after and caught one of the parent gulls instead. Our target gull stood for a second staring at us before taking flight and disappearing out over the water. Gull: 1, Wendy: 0.

Alcatraz wendy

While at our first Oiled Wildlife Specialist training of the year two weeks ago, I was asked if I would be interested in trying to help the National Park Service catch a juvenile western gull on Alcatraz Island. The bird had been spotted with a fishing lure stuck in its beak a little while ago, but staff hadn’t been able to get close enough with a hand net to nab it. I of course, without hesitation, said I would absolutely love to come try my hand at it! I’ve been trying to get as much time in the field as possible, and this sounded like a fun (and educational) challenge. How often does one get the chance to go to Alcatraz to catch a bird?! After some discussion with Wendy, our special ops responder, we decided this would be the perfect opportunity to practice our netting skills with the Talon net. So, at 5am last Thursday morning the two of us hit the road to Alcatraz island.


We met Tori, the Alcatraz biologist for the National Park Service, at the dock just after 8am and boarded the ship with the rest of the crew. Once on the island, we met Kylie and Paige, the interns that had been attempting to capture the gull the past few days. As they took us to where the bird generally hangs out on the island, we saw it sitting in its usual spot up on the hill with its parents. After our first failed attempt, Wendy and I got another shot about a half hour later when the bird came back. Since we hadn’t yet gotten the first net untangled, we had to use a heavier net for round two.

Alcatraz net

Once again, Wendy was up on the ladder, ready to redeem herself. Like before, the gull was sitting up on the hillside just above where we were stationed. This time when Wendy fired, the net exploded out of the barrel and then just dropped to the ground half way between her and the gull as there was a slight miscalculation for the heavier net. As soon as the net hit the ground, the bird ran up the hill, watched us for a minute or two, and then flew away and didn’t return until late afternoon. Gull: 2, Wendy: 0.

We had just returned from exploring the island when we spotted the gull for the third time. Just as it had been earlier, it was sitting in the exact same location. We tried to distract it with some bait to give us a better chance at netting it this time. As soon as we tossed it near the gull, it spooked and flew away. We waited for a while longer to see if it would come back, but as late afternoon turned to evening, we realized we had better get going if we didn’t want to spend the night on Alcatraz. But in all honesty, I wouldn’t have minded trying to conjure up the Bird Man’s ghost in cell block D. Wendy and I may have missed capturing our target gull, but at least we caught something, right? Overall it was a great learning experience and both of us are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to partner with the National Park Service in attempting to help a bird in need.


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Standing on the shoulders of giants

One of the most important strengths of the OWCN is the diversity that the Member Organizations bring, but we are extremely lucky to be able to also draw on relationships beyond our Member Organizations that we have through the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators, National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and Wildlife Disease Association, to name just a few. I was especially reminded of that when four of our staff (including me) stopped by the California Raptor Center for some raptor handling training last week. We are very lucky to have the Raptor Center located just a few steps from the Boneyard where we keep much of our response equipment, including trailers packed with wildlife care supplies, trucks and boats. Many on our team have some experience working with raptors either in spills or general rehabilitation, but for some of us that was many years ago. No matter the experience, there is always more to learn – tips that only people who are doing it every day can share.


Some tools of the trade

Jennie, Danene, Lorraine and I met Brett Steadman, longtime Operations Manager at the California Raptor Center last Friday morning and then spent 3 hours learning about how he trains volunteers and veterinary students to quickly master basic skills in catching and handing raptors. He showed us the various tools and equipment that they find most valuable in working with raptors, and explained why they met the needs of their raptor rehab and education program as well how they might be useful for us in spill response. He selected a bird in the permanent collection that he was confident would tolerate handling without becoming too stressed. He demonstrated basic techniques and gave us the opportunity to learn (or refresh) our hands-on skills. Brett was extremely generous with his time and knowledge, answering all of our questions and, when the heat of the day prevented some hands-on activities, he invited us to come back later in the fall when the heat of Davis has waned a bit.


Danene demonstrating mad raptor skills

All the information he shared was valuable, but for me the most interesting was hearing about how he trained new people. The challenges and the methods he used to surmount them are very applicable to oiled wildlife response. Some were familiar but all were valuable reminders. We routinely need to train many people quickly to preform basic capture, stabilization, cleaning and care of species they may be unfamiliar with. Having a broad range of resources and experiences to call on is what maximizes our success. Thanks to all of you who make the OWCN ready to respond to any incident – big or small, coastal or inland, seabird, mammal or raptor. And especially thanks to Brett for taking the time from his busy schedule to provide training last week.


Brett demonstrating raptor capture


Deputy Director, Animal Care Operations


My week at The Marine Mammal Center: Seals, sea lions, fur seals and much, much more!


Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is the beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

As you may know, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) was established 25 years ago with the goal of bringing together universities, regulatory agencies, and wildlife care organizations with the interest of working collaboratively to rescue and rehabilitate oiled wildlife. Today, the network has more than 40 Member Organizations and is recognized as a world leader in oiled wildlife response. As part of Readiness and Reaching Out (two of our four R’s) we regularly work with our Member Organizations to build relationships and refine our wildlife capture and care skills.

Last month I had the opportunity to spend a week at The Marine Mammal Center. The Marine Mammal Center is one of our Member Organizations and is the world’s largest marine mammal rehabilitation hospital. Since my past marine mammal experience was limited to working with captive pinnipeds and wild sea otters undergoing rehabilitation, I was in for a real treat (and a steep learning curve).


Danene Birtell, OWCN (left) with Christina Caporale (middle) and Kelly Franky (right), both from the North Carolina Zoo, work together to identify animals that need to be weighed. Credit © The Marine Mammal Center

One of the first lessons I learned was that the herding boards are your best friend and a VERY useful tool, especially with curious California sea lions.  After my orientation I was paired with members of “Crew”, who are very knowledgeable volunteers. During my visit I was able to spend three days on Crew and the only word I have for these individuals is AMAZING! I had the opportunity to learn about animal behavior, diet preparation, animal restraint, documentation, communication, and so much more. The Crew volunteers were very patient anexcellent mentors to all of the visitors. I also had the chance to refresh my veterinary technician skills by spending two days with the Veterinary Science team. I assisted with various types of medical procedures, ranging from intake exams to sedating animals for x-rays and wound management.

Another highlight was the opportunity to work with other visitors who traveled to Sausalito to assist The Marine Mammal Center with the unusually high number of animals that came in this summer. Many of the visitors were from zoos and aquariums, which reminded me of the importance of transdisciplinary collaboration and team building outside of our immediate circle of colleagues.

As we reflect on 25 years since the inception of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network I can honestly say that we have come together, stayed together, and continue to work together to ensure we put our best foot forward to save wildlife impacted by environmental stressors. A HUGE thank you to the OWCN Management Team and The Marine Mammal Center staff and volunteers for all of your support during my visit. Oh, and by the way, I love elephant seals!

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Elephant seal @ The Marine Mammal Center
Credit © The Marine Mammal Center



Danene Birtell -Readiness Coordinator, Oiled Wildlife Care Network

2020-2021 Call for Research Proposals

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) is currently seeking proposals from researchers and wildlife professionals who are interested in getting answers to questions that will:

  • Enhance our ability to save more animals
  • Increase efficient use of current resources
  • Facilitate adoption of new, effective technologies

This year, we are prioritizing proposals that focus on California’s inland species that are at high risk of oiling. This includes wildlife that live in or near inland waters or wetlands that are located near highways, rail lines, production facilities, pipelines, etc..

In particular, we are interested in learning more about:

  • The effects of oil on inland wildlife species
  • Development or testing of deterrent and hazing methods


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A maximum of $200,000 is available for proposals for this fiscal year. Single year projects requesting ≤ $15,000 are considered as small grants. As such, submission of the pre-proposal format suffices as a complete small grant application.  Small-grant proposals should be submitted no later than 5:00 pm (PST) on 20 December 2019.

Investigators requesting > $15,000 (or for multiple years of support), should submit a pre-proposal no later than 5:00 pm (PST) on 6 September 2019. Should the pre-proposal be favorably reviewed, a full proposal will be required. Multi-year projects are considered. However, annual application, provision of complete and timely progress reports, and competitive review are required to maintain ongoing funding.

For more details regarding grant guidelines, proposal format, examples of previously-funded projects, and the review process, please visit the OWCN’s website.

If you have questions, please contact call Pamela Roualdes at or at (530) 752-4167.