Deepwater Horizon Day 4: Calm Before The Storm?

I am beginning to hate my alarm clock…not a good sign.  Why couldn’t they have picked a nice cheery color for the digital readout to greet me (pink, yellow, something soothing) instead of the evil red 05:00 glowing at me when it goes off.  Oh well – on to the spill.

Today was another good day for readiness for the marine mammal & turtle unit.  Even more so because it entailed only readiness, as no oiled mammals or turtles have yet been collected.

We are receiving about 10 calls on the Wildlife Hotline per hour, which are being directly fed to both the bird and mammal/turtle unit leaders.  We did receive calls (and responded to) several unoiled strandings of dead turtles and dolphins outside the spill zone (but within the stranding network area) that we fully evaluated.  None of these have observable oil either externally or internally, and it is not uncommon to have this level of strandings on these beaches at this time of year.  In fact, this is one of the more difficult aspects in the interpretation of the effects of a spill: teasing apart the normal mortalities of wild animals (“Nature, red in tooth and claw”) from those related to a spill.  Excellent work is done by Glenn Ford and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment teams to establish this very fact – and a process that we asked Dr. Steve Hampton of OSPR [California Department of Fish & Game’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response] to detail in our last Newsletter (text here).

Planning and establishing the four facilities for turtles is going very well.  Equipment and supplies are on there way, and we have fully completed the protocols and forms needed for oiled sea turtle care and necropsy. This afternoon, we had an extensive conference call with the key staff of each facility (as well as coordinating and collaborating veterinarians, stranding coordinators, and the state and federal trustees), where we covered specific animal care protocols, but also reviewed critical aspects such as chain of custody, evidence collection, and how (and when) information would flow.  While this seems very bureaucratic and not related to saving these animals, all this paperwork is critical to the success of a response, as we are one small cog in the overall response machine (and this is a hecka – Kaiti’s word , not mine –  big one!).  For those of you who haven’t responded to spills (or fires, emergencies, state weddings, etc.), oil spills are a huge undertaking governed by a structure called ICS, or the Incident Command System. This system helps to keep large-scale events in order, but also requires a structured approach to activities.  By the Wildlife Branch following this system (versus going cowboy), we gain much more credibility within the response, which leads to better understanding and addressing our needs, which then leads to better animal care.  And it is, after all, all about the animals. Lecture over.

We are also closing in on complete plans for cetacean and manatee response.  We are one step ahead on these though, as the NOAA-NMFS protocols are complete and already fully approved by all parties for use with cetacea.  Nicole, the manatee expert working with us, has been assisting on making the few necessary tweaks needed for that species, as well as identifying space for them to go if oiled.  We are at a further advantage in this species (versus turtles and cetacea) however, as much of the initial work can be done on manatee at the water’s edge, and they have the capabilities to do very well driving long distances to facilities with the massive water filtration necessary to deal with, basically, a large floating cow that doesn’t digest too well.  And I mean that in the best way, as I think they are the coolest animals (next to sea otters, of course).

As you may know, this spill has been declared a Spill of National Significance (or SONS).  This designation has a great meaning in the spill response world, as it is the highest Federal designation (which makes perfect sense, considering this event), but also brings with it some specific challenges.  One that we are addressing now is how to maintain continuity within the Wildlife Branch for info and response activities when two separate CPs (see who remembers the acronym for yesterday’s blog) have been established in two different Sectors and two different states, both of which are cleaning up the same oil and affecting the same wildlife.  For collecting animals it isn’t as problematic, but potentially trying to keep track of how many live and dead animals have been collected, are oiled, are washed, are released and have died within four bird facilities and four turtle/mammal facilities with any degree of accuracy makes my head swim a bit.  We have suggested to the powers that be that the Wildlife Branch remain intact across both CPs (OK, honestly, who remembered it, who went back to the previous post, and who just skipped it?), but we will see what happens.

OK, the angry crimson digits are saying 10:26 at me right now so I am signing off.  I hope to report again tomorrow that the numbers remain at 0 for collected oiled mammals and turtles, but we have had a break in the weather (t-storms and even a tornado warning – whee!) so we may very well have some action tomorrow.  Part of me hopes it stays quiet, the other part of me doesn’t – if there are oiled animals out there, the more quickly they get in the better they typically do.  Ah, conflict.

– Mike

(edited to spell out a couple of acronyms and provide a link – Alison)

5 thoughts on “Deepwater Horizon Day 4: Calm Before The Storm?

  1. What do you make of the comments made by US Rep Gene Taylor that it’s not that bad? Is that at all possible? It’s odd that there aren’t more oiled cases. I’m curious as to the locating and collecting of animals–who’s looking? Is it possible that they aren’t being found? Is it possible that this spill somehow isn’t so bad? Very strange.

  2. Hey Mike –

    Reading your blogs from half a world away (Kinshasa, DRC) and thinking good thoughts for everyone there, and especially for the animals. Thanks for taking the extra time to share what you’re doing.


  3. Mike!

    Thanks for all of your on the ground info. It’s really helping those of us trying to keep track of it all. As a wildlife biologist with ample bird handling and ID skills and after working with you at IBRRC in 2007 I’m trying to find out the logistics of getting down there to help. I’m in Oakland but can be there on a day’s notice. I’ve contacted all of the volunteer phone #’s and am working hard to put my skills to work on this.

    See you soon,
    Nicole Edmison

  4. Great job Mike — sounds like you guys are really pulling everything together. And thanks for the posts — I know its so hard to write when you are tired at the end of the day, especially days that often run over 14 hours. Hang in there — Deana

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