Deepwater Horizon Day 59: A Much-Needed Update

Well, I want to start this post with an apology. I have not been able to keep up the frequency of posts on this tour of duty as I wished to, or was able to in the earlier period. Call it combat fatigue, the need to do more complete and frequent reports to the Unified Command and the trustees, sunspots – whatever the cause, I will try and be better on this.

So, an update: the OMTU is continuing to whirr merrily along. The team of Carrie Hubard (mammals), Sara McNulty (turtles), Kaiti Ferguson (all things logistic) and myself are continuing to plan, support and lead the efforts in Houma for the Group, which has expanded over the past month to include 33 key staff throughout the region. We have recently moved from our “cozy” (e.g., cramped) environs to “trailerville” in front of the Command Center. The Wildlife Branch received prime real estate in this quad-wide trailer (and, if you are a long-time trailer aficionado like me, you know this is a Cadillac size of trailers), with our own copier, room for 6 OMTU folks, and wall space to display artwork from an entire elementary school that sent us thank you letters. One downside: no coffeemaker in the unit, so I am getting my exercise through regular trips to the other building!

The Gulf Coast has also said goodbye to two other OWCN members that were out here for a rotation – Christine Fiorello came to help support the veterinary care at the MS and AL bird facilities, and Don Ballard deployed to assist me in ensuring the turtle/mammal facilities were as ready to go as possible. Both did excellent work, were greatly appreciated for their efforts, and well deserved of getting a few days off for good behavior. Thank you both for helping out!

As I mentioned yesterday, capture efforts are on a temporary hiatus while we rest, retool and plan to redeploy. Right now, plans are in the works to expand our base of operations to not only include shoreline and at-sea captures, but to evaluate the ability to work cooperatively with the in-situ burn units as well as the skimmer fleets that are responding to the spill. Unlike what has been portrayed in the press on these efforts, the folks in each of these response functions have worked cooperatively (and with great interest) with us to develop the best plan possible to collect oiled wildlife from these areas before clean-up operations commence. Through working with them, our efforts can not only work more effectively within the system, but can be done more safely and with greater logistical support. I remain truly hopeful that these efforts will bear much fruit in the coming weeks by allowing us to capture more animals in distress, building on the tremendous efforts and successes of Blair Witherington and his team over the past weeks.

Animal care activities continue at three of our four facilities.  As of noon today, we had 95 live turtles in care, with 75 live oiled turtles being captured and a total of 469 live and dead turtles collected to date. Over the coming weeks, we will begin to crank through the remaining turtle necropsies to attempt to establish leading causes of death and to collect samples for further tests. On the mammal side, we have collected 46 dolphins thus far, with two of those being dead externally oiled animals and one live doplhin rescued from within a boomed area and immediately released. Unfortunately, we have also found one dead sperm whale floating 150 miles south of Pensacola. This whale, found by a research vessel doing fish surveys within the area, fully photodocumented the carcass and collected tissue samples, and we are currently developing a “hindcast” to determine what the likely drift may have been to better determine where the animal possibly died.

Long-term and large-scale planning continues for us throughout the region. Additional facilities have been identified for de-oiling turtles and cetacea in Florida and Texas, secondary facilities (which could hold clean turtles for long periods) have been found throughout the region, and manatee facilities, personnel and equipment continues to be planned. Additional turtle nesting and hatchling contingencies are daily discussed and modified (based on where the spill goes) – I hope to brief everyone more fully on these plans in the days to come. Add to this regular needs for updated documents/protocols/info sheets (such as for clean-up operators on how to collect animals should they find them), responding to all mammal and turtle reports over the Hotline, receiving and filling out requests for equipment and supplies from all facilities and field staff, responding to media inquiries, filing regular reports to all the response bodies that need it, and various and unsundry conference calls and in-person meetings with other Groups and Units, each day is chock full of activities that keep us all hopping!

So, in closing for this evening, as you can hopefully see, things remain busy here, but our efforts continue to be as strong as ever. We are attempting to be ready for anything that might come up, and when it doesn’t (which happens not daily, not hourly, but sometimes minutely – and yes I continue to enjoy making words up), we remain true to our ideals of flexible adaptability in continuing to move forward.  On this blog, please keep checking back, as I hope to have several guest bloggers over the next several days to liven up the discussion, share their views on the response, and to give you a respite from my parenthetical additions (though I can’t guarantee I won’t reserve editorial privileges before I post their info)!

– Mike

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