I just returned from S.E. Farallon Island where I spent several days helping test different hazing techniques on birds, specifically on Western Gulls (Larus occidentalis). The trial period lasted three weeks, during which time three of us from the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (including Winston Vickers and Paul Gorenzel) rotated through to test a variety of hazing techniques, many of which could potentially be used to keep birds away from oil spills. The multi-agency avian research team was comprised of biologists from Island Conservation, USFWS, PRBO Conservation Science, USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services, OWCN and CDFG-OSPR. The hazing trial consisted of testing different methods of hazing, while at the same time minimizing and monitoring disturbances to pinniped populations.
The Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge is a mere 28 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge and yet is the largest seabird breeding colony in the continental United States, with more than 300,000 seabirds of 13 different species. In addition to an incredible abundance of seabirds, it is home to 5 species of pinnipeds, including California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), Steller sea lions (Eumatopias jubatus), Northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris), Northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus), and Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina).
Hazing techniques that were tested during this trial included lasers, effigies, pyrotechnics, biosonics (playback of amplified gull distress or raptor calls), and helicopter hazing. The hazing techniques were very successful at reducing almost all roosting gulls from the island to fewer than a few dozen individuals, well below the large numbers (>10,000) present in prior years.
It is great news that the hazing trial was so successful for many reasons, but one of the main reasons is that it gives us one more tool in our toolbox to use during oil spills. As Winston Vickers (the Hazing Coordinator for OWCN) says, “hazing is a preventive medicine” – the best way to treat oiled wildlife is to prevent them from getting oiled in the first place, and thanks to the success of the hazing trial we are wiser with respect to effective hazing techniques.