Is Oiled Wildlife Processing for me?

The OWCN is looking to increase the capacity of the Processing Strike Team before the next spill occurs. So what exactly is wildlife processing within the context of an oil spill response? And what type of person is best suited for joining the Processing Strike Team? Read on for answers from California’s Oiled Wildlife Processing experts at Point Blue Conservation Science.

Do you enjoy identifying birds and other wildlife? Do you have experience working with them (birds, mammals, and/or herps) in hand? Do you self-identify as data savvy, and have a knack for meticulously recording biological data? Do you always examine dead animals you stumble upon? Do you have an inner detective that wants to express itself? Then you may be a good candidate for the Processing Strike Team!

Now you may be asking yourself: what IS the Processing Strike Team? Who are these people? What do they do? And if I wanted to be part of this team: how would I go about it?

The Processing Strike Team (PST) is responsible for collecting data and evidence from live and dead animals collected during oil spills in California, to document the impacts of those spills on wildlife. This includes logging in animals collected by other responders in the field, identifying them to species, and carefully collecting data and evidence from that animal.

If you have responded to an oil spill in the past, you may have seen PST staff working with care personnel in the intake room on live animals, especially birds. The PST staff are often the first people to handle an animal arriving at a primary care facility during a spill; they make sure all the collection information is recorded, assign that animal a log number, and in many spills, then work closely with care personnel to collect the processing information needed for each animal while allowing care personnel to prioritize the care they are there to provide. This includes helping with species identification, banding, and evidence collection. Upon arrival of a live animal, the PST also prioritizes animals who are in need of immediate medical care. Those of you who work with wildlife may recognize the signs of a distressed animal: their head is down, they do not seem responsive, or they are not acting like a healthy animal should behave. These medically distressed animals will be moved to the front of the line to receive their intake exam and the rest of their processing sooner – along with any endangered or threatened species, whose identification is also the responsibility of the PST.

The Processing Strike Team handles the receiving of incoming animals at the Primary Care Facility.

Processing live animals is often tightly intertwined with the intake exam: each animal is marked with a band or tag of some sort, examined for oiling information (e.g., where on the body it is oiled, how much of the body is oiled, and how deep the oil penetrates the feathers or pelage); and evidence collected. This evidence includes photographing the oiled animal (with a white board showing the log number, species, and spill information as the backdrop for the animal’s picture), and taking an oil sample, both of which, along with the data, demonstrate that this animal was oiled during the spill. There’s lots of data to record, and much organization and labeling of all the evidence collected, but this is all important information for assessing a spill’s impact on our wildlife!

A photograph is taken of each affected animal as part of evidence collection during Processing.

Finally, for those who are already working in wildlife rehabilitation and are familiar with the computer application WRMD (Wildlife Rehabilitation Medical Database) for recording the medical information on animals, you will be working with OWRMD, which is the “Oiled” version of WRMD created for OWCN. If you are not familiar with WRMD or O-WRMD, never fear—training will be provided on how to use this application, and on our other means of documenting data and evidence. In the PST, you are usually working with at least one other person closely, and part of a larger OWCN team, so you are never flying solo!

After a spill is over, all the data that the PST has collected goes into the Natural Resources Damage Assessment—this is a way of accounting for which species were affected by the oil spill and determining the appropriate type and amount of restoration needed to offset the impacts from the oil spill. So know that your evidence collection, careful labeling, and meticulous data recording could go towards a bigger purpose—wildlife conservation.

Processing falls under the Care & Processing Group within the Wildlife Branch during a spill response.

So, if you’re intrigued to learn more, what now? First, we invite anyone interested to take the Level 1 webinar, an Introduction to Wildlife Processing, which will be good background to have no matter what role you play in oiled wildlife response in California (note, you’ll need to have taken certain prerequisites to access this, and to be affiliated with an OWCN Member Organization). Once you’ve taken the Level 1 webinar, you’ll then be in a position to determine if you have the interest, qualifications, and essential skills to continue on and complete the Level 2 webinar and be considered for the Processing Strike Team. For a detailed explanation of the Essential Skills and Required Qualifications of a PST member, sign into your Better Impact responder profile and download the Processing Qualifications & Essential Skills file.

If you have any questions about PST duties and its prerequisites, reach out to me or Point Blue’s oil spill response and preparedness coordinator, Diana Humple (dhumple@pointblue.org), anytime!

— Meredith Elliott, Senior Scientist, Point Blue Conservation (melliott@pointblue.org)

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