Pipeline P00547 Incident: Reflections from the ICP

Hello all – Sorry that the OWCN Management Team has missed a few days of blogging, but as you are most assuredly aware, we are a bit busy right now….

The wildlife response for the Pipeline P00547 Incident (name just flows off the tongue, doesn’t it?) is going very well to date. We currently have more than 50 responders on site – doing extensive recovery (from Long Beach Harbor down to Oceanside), field stabilization at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach, and primary care at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center (home to International Bird Rescue). Overall, as of yesterday, we have had more than 80 overall responders from 14 of our 44 Member Organizations involved in the effort. Absolutely amazing, and makes me so proud of all we have collectively developed to respond quickly and in a coordinated fashion anywhere oil may be oiled!

As of yesterday, we have collected 26 live birds and 17 dead – a much lower number than we feared based on the initial volume estimates. There are a number of possible reasons for this: time of year resulting in fewer animals at risk, lower actual released oil than was initially thought, etc. What is ABSOLUTELY certain, however, is that it isn’t due to a lack of search effort!

Right now, aside from the ruddy duck that has been christened “Happy Duck” by our friends in the Joint Information Center, the most notable story has been the successful collection of 7 live oiled snowy plovers to date. This Federally-threatened species is a highly sensitive species, and one that can be very difficult to capture effectively. By bringing in additional experienced partners from a number of organizations and agencies (including our own Point Blue Conservation Science) who have used specialized snares to rescue these birds. They are currently doing very well in care – in fact, they are eating machines, gaining weight quickly even before being washed! We will keep folks updated as we can, but there is an excellent piece in today’s Los Angeles Times if you want to learn more.

For me, being “trapped” at the Incident Command Post is both a frustration and an honor. Frustration because I REALLY want to be directly working with the animals in our care (after all, I didn’t go to vet school to help coordinate disasters!), but also a real privilege to work within a coordinated Unified Command, alongside Greg McGowan and Laird Henkel of CDFW-OSPR, and helping to make sure everyone in my team: 1) gets what they need, and 2) are shielded from getting things they don’t. All joking aside, it is an honor to be able to lead such a stellar program and to have such rock stars amongst the >1,600 trained OWCN responders, 44 Member Organizations, 12+ facilities to make emergencies such as this effective, efficient, and – most importantly – impactful on the wildlife entrusted to us.

Being at this ICP has made me reflect on the previous incident I blogged extensively on – the Deepwater Horizon spill in (gasp!) 2010. Being the lead of the Oiled Marine Mammal/Sea Turtle Unit (OMTU) on behalf of NOAA (and alongside Teri Rowles and Sarah Wilkin) in that incident has both similarities as well as distinct differences. One strong similarity is, and may always be, the massive increase in my caffeine intake throughout the day. For a day in my life during that event, go ahead and read (or re-read if you are an old timer like me) that blog post to get a sense of what a paper-pusher in a spill often does. Also, for a tour of that Command Post, take a look at this later post.

As things morph and develop on this response, we will likely be more utilizing our social media outlets extensively (expertly managed by Eunah Preston, who is here on site) as well as media interviews/info (shepherded by Kat Kerlin from UCD, who is brilliantly acting as border collie to me – the sheep – in attempting to make order out of the dozens of chaotic inquiries coming in), so its likely we won’t be blogging extensively on the effort until afterwards – or at least until it slows down a bit.

But rest assured – the entire OWCN community is working tirelessly to recover and care for any animals affected by this disaster. And we will continue as long as necessary!


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