My last month has been filled with travels to spend time with several of our Member Organizations. The sea lion UME (Unusual Mortality Event) in southern California affected almost all of our partners who are also part of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. While the UME was not the result of an oil spill, the influx of large numbers of pinnipeds simulated many of the conditions that could occur during an oil spill response. Thus I was fortunate to be deployed to learn how our partners were being so successful at coping with the high influx of patients.
The ultimate goal of my travels was to bring back the lessons learned and creative solutions implemented by our Member Organizations, so OWCN can incorporate this valuable information into any future protocols we develop for marine mammal oil spill response. My ulterior motives were to get to spend time with amazing people whom I only usually get to chat with via e-mail, provide some elbow grease and, of course, get to work with some pretty charismatic animals. I want to thank all the wonderful folks at The Marine Mammal Center, North Coast Marine Mammal Center and the California Wildlife Center who were great teachers and amazing hosts.
While I was traveling, I was once again struck by how lucky I am to work with dedicated wildlife rehabilitators and biologists on a regular basis. Whether birds, terrestrial mammals or marine mammals their commitment to reducing suffering and returning as many injured or orphaned animals back to the wild is inspirational. My hat goes off to each and every one.
It is also important to recognize that their efforts result in ripple effects that are much larger than just saving one animal’s life. Every time a wildlife rehabilitator answers the phone or receives an animal into care, the world learns that wildlife has value. Very few animals come to a wildlife rehabilitation center without a person. Someone has to care enough to notice, stop, ask for information, wait for a responder to arrive or, if appropriate, receive and follow through on instructions on how to safely transport the animal to a wildlife hospital. Many times entire families or classrooms full of children are involved in a rescue. Wildlife rehabilitators transform these potential tragedies into wonderful opportunities to engage the public in caring about wildlife.
Each year tens of thousands of wild animal rescues occur in California alone. This means that over the years, hundreds of thousands of Californians have been inspired to value wildlife. It’s during large events such as the UME or oil spill responses that the results can be seen most clearly. The large scale success of wildlife rescue is evidenced by the outrage shown by the public towards the plight of the animals and by the phenomenal support we receive from thousands of concerned citizens desperately wanting to “do something” to save wildlife during these large events.
Once again, I tip my hats to all of the wildlife rehabilitators who are slogging through the “busy season” and the UME, oftentimes without adequate recognition or funding. They are true unsung heroes.