Filtering Rehab Pools

As part of our ongoing commitment to improving oiled wildlife care, the UC Davis OWCN staff actively conduct research projects exploring new ways to do just about everything that happens during an oiled wildlife response. One such project (funded by the CA Office of Spill Prevention and Response’s Scientific Study and Evaluation Program) focused on how to remove fish oil from rehabilitation pools.

Many people don’t realize that when seabirds eat fish, they excrete fish oil in their droppings. This fish oil floats on the water’s surface in the rehabilitation pool and can contaminate clean feathers. Once on the feathers, it impairs waterproofing (just like petroleum products) and is a setback in the rehab process. Because we want seabirds to move through the process as quickly as possible, any setback is dangerous.

Currently, fish oil is removed from pools by allowing surface water to overflow into the sewer system. This can amount to a lot of water – even during a small scale response. To conserve water and lower response costs, we investigated ways to filter fish oil so water could be sent back to pools instead of the sewer.

Using a portable filtration system, we successfully removed large amounts of fish oil from test pools. During the field trial (conducted in cooperation with the International Bird Rescue Research Center at our facility in Fairfield) birds in a pool fitted with the test filter successfully maintained their waterproofing for several days.

Portable rehab pool fitted with test filter (Greg Massey)

Portable rehab pool fitted with test filter (Greg Massey)


Although the filter experiment was a success, we’ll continue to look for ways to improve water quality in our rehabilitation pools. These types of research projects are just one of many ways we work to provide the best achievable care to oiled wildlife.

-Greg, Asst. Director

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