OK – as promised, a more robust blogging experience tonight, as I left the facility after only a 14 hr day (luxury!), got 6 full hrs of sleep last night (true luxury!) and have recharged the mental batteries (possibly D-cell vs. 12 volt, but functional none the less).
The OMTU (and, for those of you new to the blog, that is the Oiled Mammal & Turtle Unit) continues to do excellent work throughout the Gulf responding to calls of dolphins and turtles in distress, actively searching highly oiled areas for evidence of affected animals, and readying all regions and partners for caring for animals if and when they arrive.
The team has expanded officially into Florida as well, adding a St. Petersburg/Miami Sector OMTU Liaison to that Command Post. Laura Engleby joins Vicki Cornish & Jessica Powell (from the Mobile sector) to help better integrate mammal and sea turtle issues and concerns into the planning and operations occurring within those areas. Both of these areas have been taking a strong role for us on many different fronts, including ensuring a highly involved sea turtle nesting survey and response plan is being conducted (and information fed into the clean-up and other shoreline activities in the region); continuing a complete manatee survey and readiness program (including determination of where animals at risk are, developing capture plans, acquiring necessary equipment, readying facilities and personnel, and praying that nothing ends up happening to these highly sensitive creatures); and assisting in the further expansion of possible turtle and mammal facilities throughout the Western coast of Florida into the keys.
The staff at the Houma ICC have also been very, very busy over the past week or so. We have said goodbye (for now) to several valuable members of Team OMTU (such as Janet Whaley, Trevor Spradlin and Mendy Garron – thank you all for your tireless efforts) and hello to some old and new friends (Sarah Wilkin and Alexis Gutierrez – gold stars to both of you!) Some selected tidbits of actions include:
- Continued receipt of numerous calls from the public throughout the Gulf region on animals in distress have been coordinated with the appropriate regional coordinators for rapid response and collection of animals;
- Expanded planning for specific events (such as live stranded cetacea) and worst case scenarios on collected wildlife (including the development of hurricane evacuation plans);
- Working with all members of the response effort to ensure the rapid and effective collection of affected animals, including providing information to clean-up operators, shoreline cleanup assessment team members, other wildlife collection personnel and reconnaissance staff;
- Monitoring and providing input on response and clean-up methods (such as skimming, in-situ burning, and dispersant application) and their potential effects on wildlife;
- Working with Natural Resource Damage Assessment staff on the development of monitoring efforts and the integration of response information into this effort; and
- Long-term planning for a sustained and expanded mammal and turtle response effort.
We also have launched expanded directed efforts at collection of oiled turtles closer to the source. If you will recall, the huge number of field teams that the state agencies, US Fish and Wildlife Service and IBRRC are fielding have been looking not only for oiled birds along the shoreline, but also for oiled turtles to collect and transport to our facilities. What has become clear, though, is that a greater effort many miles (30+) offshore can also be an effective means to collect these animals – proven by an initial pilot effort 2 weeks ago. Therefore, over the past week, teams of highly-skilled turtle experts, led by Blair Witherington of FFWC, have been combing the thicker oil/Sargassum patches and convergence zones offshore (directed by aerial assistance via NOAA observers in helicopters) for pelagic phase turtles. These efforts have been extremely successful to date, collecting 24 live oiled and one dead oiled turtle.
Speaking of which, on to numbers (which is, after all, what everybody wants!). As of 8 pm yesterday, we had 39 live turtles in captivity (27 of which were oiled and subsequently cleaned and 12 being visibly unoiled), 3 visibly unoiled turtles released, and 3 visibly unoiled turtles that had died, for a total of 45 collected alive. As to dead turtles, we have collected 235 up to that day/time, 2 of which were visibly oiled, 7 determined to be unoiled, and the remainder being visibly unoiled but still needing further investigation to truly rule them out as oiled. On dolphins, we have collected or verified 30 dead dolphins in the region, 1 of which was found to be externally oiled and the remainder seen not to be externally oiled but waiting for verification of internal oiling status to truly determine oiled/unoiled state. One live dolphin was stranded in Florida but died prior to transport to Gulf World – necropsy results are pending but no external oil was seen on it either. Over this weeekend, we hope to clarify the oiling status for many of these animals to better categorize the potential effects of the spill on these species; however, the subtle effects of low levels of petroleum exposure will likely take many months to better evaluate, using chemical and microscopic methods.
As you can see, the scope of our operations continue to grow, as do the numbers of animals we have collected. We will likely continue to expand our capacities in the days to come, considering the landing of oil on many more beaches and the extent of oiling towards southern Florida. We also share in the horror of the images of heavily oiled birds being collected off of Grand Isle, LA, and want to be as ready as possible should similar impacts be seen in the species we are focused on. However, I am continually buoyed by the fantastic people and organizations in this region that I am fortunate to work with, and continue to be astounded by the continued high-level efforts of all of the staff and “paraprofessionals” I work with on a daily basis within the OMTU. Thank you all.
PS – 1) Blog titles will now shift to spill days, as the operational period has now become a 48 hr period; 2) I will begin to put animal totals in each blog entry – even if it is as an addendum to the post; and 3) I will be trying to alternate between my blogs and guest bloggers to mix up the voices and perspectives you all get on this forum.