A Well-Oiled Machine (no pun intended…): Notes from the Field


Winston “the gull whisperer” Vickers baiting in gulls for capture

Today marks just over two weeks since the Refugio Oil Spill began, and day 15 since I arrived. For many days after I got here I felt like I barely had time to take a breath.  Each day was a flurry and steady stream of activities, including safety briefings in the morning, deploying field teams, multiple check-ins, conference calls, making plans for the following day, and the never ending text messages and phone calls that are just a regular part of oil spill response.

Richard Grise and his favorite field binoculars

Richard Grise and his favorite field binoculars

At the end of the long day, a quick dinner and collapsing in bed left little time for other activities (except for the nightly schemes that went on in my head on how I could make my cell phone meet its horrific demise). But now that I feel like we have almost reached the end of our field response, I finally have just enough time, energy, and brain cells to sit down and write this blog.

I wish I could convey, in a few sentences, everything that I have learned, everything that I have felt, and how incredibly in awe I am at the marvelous people that I have had the pleasure of working side by side with during the past two weeks, but I know that whatever I write will fall short of meeting that mark.  So instead, I will share what I can, and a few pictures.

Curt Clumpner helps organize field crews

Curt Clumpner and Jack Ames finishing up their field notes.

When I first arrived, on day 3 after the spill, it soon became very apparent that this spill was going to be different. Instead of large numbers of oiled birds, we had some birds, but more marine mammals than is typically seen during spill response in California.  Because of this, we quickly realized that we really needed to ramp up our staffing. It takes a lot more effort to capture or collect seals, sea lions, and dolphins.  You need special equipment, several people to be able to manage the weight, and a few good trucks. When we first arrived on scene, we had none of these things, but with everyone’s willingness to offer their time and equipment, and the support and quick-thinking by the Wildlife Branch at the Command Post, within a few days we managed to end up with a small armada of muscle and vehicles.

Marie Travers and Margee Scannell preparing critters for transport

Marie Travers and Margee Scannell preparing critters for transport

This was just one of the many challenges that we were faced with during this oil spill. But with each challenge that presented itself, like a well-oiled machine, our amazing team of staff and pre-trained volunteers stepped up to the plate to meet each speed bump head on. This included moving our field recovery and stabilization operations four times in just two weeks.

Mike Harris working out of the

Mike Harris working out of the “Monster”, organizing field capture teams

As our field response winds down, when we do finally dismantle the last kennel, and load the action packers and nets back into the Sprinter (or “Monster” as Barbie Halaska has cleverly renamed it to go with the “MASH”), I will leave with an incredible feeling of accomplishment. Accomplishment of having saved many animals that would otherwise most likely have died, accomplishment of having not only met the daily challenges that were thrown our way, but also to have come through on the other side unscathed. Saving animals from oil spills is most definitely a team effort, from capture to stabilization, to washing and care, to (hopefully) release. And the team that has helped us during this spill is top notch. I stand in awe at what we have accomplished, and at the amazing team that made it so.


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