If a Tree Falls in a Forest…

Oil spills happen all the time, right?  I mean, not the big Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez-sized ones, but small ones.  The tens of gallons that spill when a tank gets overfilled, or the top of the gas can that pops off, or the tanker truck that flips over on the highway.  These are the spills that we rarely hear about and yet they happen all the time.  So when 15   gallons of diesel spilled in the water in Morro Bay harbor a couple weeks ago it reminded me of the old saying, “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”  I am not saying that no one responds to these spills – DFG/OSPRs FRT/ES (I know, a lot of acronyms!  Dept. of Fish and Game, Field Response Team, Environmental Scientists) are quickly on scene to assess the situation.  As far as our involvement goes, however, we don’t always hear about the small spills that happen; but when a spill is as small as the recent Morro Bay spill, we wouldn’t necessarily hear about it unless there was reason to believe that wildlife might be or might have been impacted.  Sometimes we get notified, even if it is a small spill, if it happens in a sensitive area, such as in Elkhorn Slough, which is important sea otter habitat.  But back to Morro Bay…the fact that three of us from Davis (Emily, Chris, and myself) just happened to be in Morro Bay on the day the spill happened was pure coincidence.  What made this particular event even more challenging was that, as in other locations around the state recently, there were many juvenile Brown Pelicans that had either gotten in the diesel or had fish oil on their feathers, and it was hard to distinguish which was which.  Because we couldn’t rule out the potential diesel effect on these birds that were hanging around near the area that the spill had happened, we decided to lead a recovery effort, along with Melissa Boggs (DFG/OSPR) and Richard Grise from Pacific Wildlife Care.  We ended up capturing 6 very wet, oily pelicans that day, with Richard collecting an additional pelican the following day.  We have no confirmation yet that these pelicans were affected by this particular diesel spill, but they were cared for and washed at Pacific Wildlife Care by their excellent and dedicated group of volunteers.  We felt lucky to have been at the right spot at the right time, so to speak, and it was a joy to get to work alongside the talented folks at PWC.  Thank you, PWC, for all your help with these birds!

– Kyra

Wet and cold Brown Pelicans in Morro Bay.

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