Welcome to FROGTOWN. We hope you enjoy your stay.

Welcome, friend. We’re glad you’re here. You’ve been through quite an ordeal with all of that nasty oil running through your creek. But now that you’re safe at Frogtown, we’ll be guiding you through a process of healing and rehabilitation. My name is Sam. I am the Care Strike Team Leader here at Frogtown and I’ll be coordinating your journey through the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s world-renowned wildlife rehabilitation program. We have partnered with the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, a local wildlife rehabilitation organization, to provide you and your neighbors with a premium rehabilitation experience. I see that you have selected our Platinum Oiled Amphibian Package. This full-service package includes Processing, Intake, Cleaning, Conditioning, and the best part of all—Release! I promise you will leave here feeling like a new frog!

Now let’s get you through Processing. We just need a quick photo of you holding up your case number. No, don’t worry. It’s nothing like a mugshot. Well, huh. Maybe it’s exactly like a mugshot. But it’s just our standard procedure! And if you would please lift your arms for a moment while I collect an oil sample. Well done. Thank you!

Swabbing the skin to collect an oil sample for evidence is part of the Processing procedure.

Wow! You are quite tiny, aren’t you? Just 0.11 grams and about the size of a honey bee. I’ll need to be extra careful with handling you during the Intake exam. In fact, here, have a seat inside this Tupperware so that I can examine you without risking any injuries. Aside from the oiling, are you feeling alright? Any aches, pains? Your eyes look clear, posture is normal. You appear alert and well-hydrated. Excellent! Hmm. It looks like you have a small injury on your toe. I’ll go ahead and schedule one of our veterinarians to stop by for a more thorough exam later this afternoon.

Whenever possible, frogs were examined inside of containers to prevent accidental injury or escape. Handling was kept to an absolute minimum.

Now just relax in your Tupperware while I prepare your bubble bath. I should tell you, we have an adapted de-oiling protocol designed especially for our valued clients here at Frogtown. You see, in Birdapolis and Mammalton we typically don’t offer spa services until clients have completed a mandatory 1-2 days in our supportive care and hydration Pre-Wash Care session. But from experience, we’ve found that our frog clients thrive when their first stop in the program is with our decontamination experts in the Cleaning Session Spa. You frogs have such incredible (and delicate) skin, after all.

Unlike the submersion wash method used in birds, slippery amphibians are irrigated with syringes of soapy and plain water.

We’ll start with a light rinse of our favorite de-oiling shampoo. You’re correct! It IS Dawn dish soap. Compared with the spas in Birdapolis and Mammalton, Frogtown uses a very mild Dawn solution. And don’t worry, we’ve already dechlorinated all of the water so it is safe for you. Let’s follow the suds with a long rinse in plain water. Good. Now go ahead and soak for a moment in the rinse pool. And voila! You are de-oiled! No need to towel-off, your skin looks its best when it is glistening with moisture. On to the Conditioning Session!

Can you spot the frog in this photo? See end of Blog for reveal. Our daily visual checks on each of the 90+ frog enclosures were time consuming. Their camouflage is impressive!

This is where you will be relaxing for the duration of your stay at Frogtown. Your suite includes a plunge pool, a moss bed, and a variety of seating options such as twigs, rocks, and the always-popular cork bark! Some of our guests also find clinging to the walls to be a fun activity. We know that humidity is so important to the comfort of our amphibian guests, so each suite is thoroughly misted with crisp, dechlorinated water several times per day.

Room service is included in your stay and is served daily at 5:00 PM for your nocturnal feasting enjoyment. Our rotating menu of flightless fruit flies, pinhead crickets, and maggots is very well-reviewed. Of course, we only serve the highest quality LIVE insects dusted with our house blend of multi-vitamin and calcium powders. Don’t be concerned if you start to pack on the grams during your stay with us. Gaining weight in Frogtown is a GOOD thing!

A Baja California Tree Frog feasts on fruit flies.

We do have one house rule that is strictly enforced by the management of Frogtown. No visitors! It’s important for your recovery that you do not invite any of your frog neighbors into your suite during your stay with us. As you know, frogs tend to be a touch cannibalistic and the last thing we want is for Big Hoppa in Suite 114 to have Baby Baja from Suite 105 “over for dinner”. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Size comparison between our smallest patient and our largest. Left: Baja California Tree Froglet <0.1 grams. Right: California Treefrog 7.1 grams.

Our goal is to keep you comfortable and well-fed in Frogtown until oil cleanup operations are completed in your beautiful creekside neighborhood. Once it is safe for you and all of your neighbors to return home, we will handle all transportation arrangements to Release you back to the section of creek where our Recovery team found you. In the meantime, I’ll be back daily for a quick visual check-in to make sure you are enjoying your stay with us. Every third day we will have a short session where I’ll record your weight, feeding progress, mentation, and overall health.

This is one room of Frogtown. 90+ frogs take up much less space than 90 birds!

Be sure to let us know if there is anything we can do to make your stay at Frogtown more pleasant.

92 frogs packaged up for transport back to their habitat. They were grouped by collection location in order to release them as close as possible to their territories.
Farewell, little friend. We hope you enjoyed your stay at Frogtown. Don’t come again!
Were you able to spot the frog?

— Sam

Frogtown staff L-R: Sam, Allison, Patrick, and Dr. Avery

The Frogs of Toro Canyon Creek

This past August OWCN was activated for an oil event at Toro Canyon Creek.  For those who may be unfamiliar with the area as I had been, it’s a creek in the hills just north of Carpinteria. A year-round water source was created after an oil-water separator had been built back in the 1990’s to help contain an existing oil well seepage.  This allowed the oil to be diverted to a tank and the separated water to feed the creek.  When clean, I can imagine how incredible this small oasis could be and the wildlife it would support; however, when we were activated, much of it was filled with thick oil sludge.

Toro Canyon Creek

While the initial animals recovered were found deceased in the oiled creek, we soon began recovering live animals, all of which belonged to 2 species of frogs (plus one Western fence lizard who happened to be in the wrong place during cleanup).  These frog species, the Baja California Treefrog (Baja) and the California Treefrog are often found to be sympatric (found in the same geographic area with each other) in southern California.


Baja California Treefrog

The Baja California Treefrog was by far the most recovered at this event (89 out of 94 frogs).  Prior to 2006, it was classified under one species known as the Pacific Treefrog, but was then separated into 3 separate species with the southernmost population becoming the Baja California Treefrog.  

The name “Treefrog” isn’t very accurate as these frogs are more ground-dwellers of low shrubs and grasses, although like treefrogs they have the typical rounded toepads that make them excellent climbers.

Baja California Treefrog variations

It is a small frog up to 2 inches long that has many different color and pattern variations which can change in response to its background environment.  The one distinguishing characteristic that does not change is the dark stripe that runs across the eyes.  It is an ambush predator that feeds mostly on insects at night, waiting for prey to come its way before lunging and capturing with its sticky tongue.  

During the breeding season from November to July, the frogs are found close to water sources, with the males becoming territorial.  The male makes his calls usually at night to attract females, but sometimes during the day as well during peak breeding season.  It is the most commonly heard frog in its range and the call (click to hear) that has been widely used in movies.


California Treefrog

The lower recovered number of the other species, the California Treefrog, could have been attributed to their different preferred habitat.  This species prefers boulder areas of which there was much less of.  I would always be excited when we’d recover one of these because of the small area they inhabited, in hopes that we could help preserve their presence after the cleaning had been completed.

This frog is just a tad larger in size than the Baja.  It has less color variation with a lighter brownish grey mottled pattern on top and a rougher skin texture with bumps on its back similar to toads you may be familiar with but having those rounded toepads of treefrogs.  The lack of the eye stripe is the best way to tell them apart from the Baja; however, they sometimes can have a faint stripe, which in juveniles may be more distinct.

California Treefrog

This frog prefers mostly boulder type areas for refuge and tends to move further away from water during fall and winter, becoming less active during the colder months.  During the spring they return to the areas of water to breed but usually take 2 years to reach a reproductive age compared to just 1 for the Baja.


Observations from the Field

One interesting oil-related observation that was made during this event is that regardless of how oiled the frog may have been when captured, this visible oil almost immediately would slough away with its slime layer.  Further investigation hopefully will be done on how much oil remains on them that cannot be seen and the effect on amphibians both short and long term.

Duane

The Pacific Northwest Legacy

If you have had the pleasure of traveling along the Pacific Coast from California to British Columbia, whether by car, boat, plane or train, then you are likely aware of the immense beauty this region boasts. Majestic forests, oceans and rivers full of life, towering snow-covered mountains…can you smell the trees or feel the salty wind in your face?

Clearly, one lasting legacy of the Pacific Northwest has been its bounty of natural beauty. But with this precious gift comes the responsibility to protect it from ourselves. The list of potential environmental threats is long, but one specific concern has been the transportation of oil through this region whether by pipeline, ship, truck or rail.

Discussion around this topic had begun but it was a spill incident in which an oil barge collided with its tug off the coast of Washington in 1988, that officially created the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force (Task Force).

The original Task Force members held their first Annual Meeting in March 1989, and the following day the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound prompting Alaska, California, Oregon and California to join the Task Force. Hawaii became a member in 2001 creating a coalition of western states and British Columbia, united in their efforts to prevent and respond to oil spills across the West Coast.” – Annual Report 2019

This Task Force highlights the importance of cross-border coordination and cooperation while aiming for a clear, unified mission: Working together to improve the Pacific Coast’s prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from oil spills. It also recognized the importance of coordinated wildlife response in this region from the very beginning. You can learn more about their vision, mission and goals here as well as read their latest Task Force Annual Report 2020 here.

Over the years, our colleagues at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response have been very actively involved with this Task Force, representing the state of California. But in addition, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network has supported their work as we share a similar vision and approach. In fact, we feel very attune to the Task Force, as the very essence of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network is cooperation and collaboration amongst our 44 Member Organizations so that we can provide rapid and efficient oiled wildlife response in California.

Given our shared values and vision, it was with great delight that we recognized the names of so many of the wonderful colleagues being honored this year with the Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force Legacy Award (full recipient list here). While we wish to congratulate each award winner for their passion and dedication to the Task Force’s mission, we wanted to shower a bit of extra praise on these fine folks:

  • Gary Shigenaka (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration): Esteemed scientist and colleague who has massively contributed to the advancement of coordinated spill response. To learn more, check out this write up “Minds Behind OR&R: Meet Marine Biologist Gary Shigenaka“.

  • Judd Muskat (CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response): Our go to Earth Scientist for all of our GIS needs, Judd has been a wonderful and reliable colleague. In addition to supporting California response efforts, Judd has contributed significantly to the advancement of the Task Force over the years.

  • Curtiss Clumpner (Oiled Wildlife Care Network): Our former Deputy Director of Care Operations, Curt has been a wildlife champion his entire life. While his passion has taken him around the world responding to spills, he has always had an extra special spot for his ‘home land’, the Pacific Northwest. And with that spirit, Curt has actively contributed to the Task Force’s efforts for many years and continues to be a strong advocate for coordinated wildlife response in the region. To learn more, check out a previous blog all about Curt – The Man…The Myth…The Legend?

Given the prestigious award announcement this week, I wanted to give Curt a call to wish him a hearty congrats. During our conversation, Curt shared that he was always fond of the Task Force, as it was one of the first efforts to establish interstate coordination and cooperation, specifically focusing on the West Coast region, which was rather unique at that time. He highlighted the fact that this cooperation during non spill times is so effective at allowing state decision makers to communicate and gain familiarity with each other which in turn increases ease of communication and mutual aid requests during oil spills.

He also pointed out that while this Task Force was created initially for oil spill response coordination, it has taken it upon itself to grow and adapt, now expanding efforts into abandoned and derelict vessels and leading a Salish Sea Shared Waters Forum. All in all, Curt shared that he felt very fortunate to be awarded the Task Force Legacy Award and that sharing this honor with Gary and Judd made it even more impactful.

Cheers to all the Legacy Award recipients, and the Task Force in general, as we salute all your hard work and efforts toward a future with No Spilled Oil!

Scott Buhl – Readiness Coordinator

Way Down South

For this week’s blog, I’d like to highlight a region you are familiar with but perhaps not in terms of OWCN or the wildlife that is found there. Region 5, the “South Coast” region is the most urbanized region of California, having the top 3 populated counties. Recall that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) divides the state into 7 functional regions:

  • Region 1: Northern
  • Region 2: North Central
  • Region 3: Bay Delta
  • Region 4: Central
  • Region 5: South Coast
  • Region 6: Inland Deserts
  • Region 7: Marine

Region 5 consists of the counties along the coast from Santa Barbara down to San Diego, also including the offshore islands in those areas.  

There are 13 Member Organizations in this region: 

  • Santa Barbara County
    • Channel Islands Marine & Wildlife Institute
    • Santa Barbara Zoo
    • Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network
    • Channel Islands Cetacean Research Unit
  • Los Angeles County
    • California Wildlife Center
    • International Bird Rescue (South)
    • Marine Mammal Care Center
    • Aquarium of the Pacific
  • Orange County
    • Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center
    • Pacific Marine Mammal Center
  • San Diego County
    • Sea World San Diego
    • Project Wildlife
    • National Marine Mammal Foundation

This region tends to be drier that most of the others, resulting in more drought-tolerant species and isolated populations of the moisture-dependent amphibians.  Still, there is an abundance of amazing wildlife particularly in the non-urbanized areas.  Let’s cover the profiles of a few that I find particularly interesting.

Coast Range Newt 

This colorful subspecies of the California Newt is a Species of Special Concern endemic to the coast and coastal mountains from Mendocino County south to San Diego County.  It inhabits wet forests, oak forests, chaparral, and rolling grasslands.  This amphibian is terrestrial and diurnal as an adult but aquatic when breeding and uses the same breeding sites throughout its life.

While it is understood among wildlife rehabilitators to watch out for beaks, teeth and claws/talons, this tiny animal can actually kill you.  Adults secrete tetrodotoxin on their skin, the same toxin found in pufferfish. Whenever I hear “tetrodotoxin” I always think of Homer Simpson eating Fugu and his eventful drive home. However, the actual initial signs of toxicity are a tingling, burning and numbing sensation of the lips and tongue, followed by numbness of the face and extremities and eventually leading to death due to respiratory failure.  

Light-footed Ridgway’s Rail

This rail is one of the most endangered shorebirds in California.  Federally and State Endangered as well as CDFW Fully Protected, this bird frequents coastal wetlands from Southern California into Baja California.  

It is pretty easy to distinguish from other rails in that it is large and robust (like an athletic chicken) with a rust-colored neck and breast, barred flanks, and a long, mostly orange beak, particularly the mandible.  Still, you may not see it often because of its reclusiveness and tendency to stay hidden in the dense marsh vegetation.  When threatened it also acts like a chicken in that it often prefers to run rather than fly or swim.

Ringtail

Although the Ringtail inhabits all regions, it is an uncommon small mammal that is rarely seen.  This nocturnal carnivore has a special interest to me because when I first started in wildlife rehabilitation I had not known there were populations in the Santa Monica Mountains until I saw a couple that had been hit by cars along Malibu Canyon Road.  A little while after we noticed them we were fortunate to rehabilitate one at the facility I worked.  Some time later,  while searching for a Golden Eagle one evening in Malibu Creek State Park, we came across a large group of them!

The Ringtail is a peculiar looking animal that perhaps not many of you knew existed in California. They are found in riparian and rocky areas, using hollow trees or large rock landscape for cover. They are listed by CDFW as Fully Protected after their numbers significantly declined due to trapping for their pelts.  

Bald and Golden Eagles

Although less common to Region 5, both the Golden and Bald Eagles can be found here.  Both species of this magnificent raptor are listed as Fully Protected by CDFW, with the Bald Eagle also listed as State Endangered.  They are the two largest raptors in California (excluding the California Condor for those who consider that a raptor). The juvenile Bald Eagle can also sometimes be mistaken for a Golden Eagle, as they are similar in coloration.

Even though they can look similar at certain life stages, these two species differ in many ways.  The Golden Eagle frequents open foothills and mountain regions, preying on mammals; while the Bald Eagle prefers areas next to larger water sources for fish.  Haviing worked with both species, I have found that they also differ greatly in temperament.  The Golden is a very cool and collected customer that will tolerate extended periods of care and handling.  The Bald, on the other hand, is the extreme opposite, very easily stressed and one that would be difficult to rehabilitate for an extended period of time.

San Clemente Loggerhead Shrike 

This shrike is a subspecies endemic to San Clemente Island.  It is darker in coloration than other subspecies but can easily be differentiated simply by the location it is found. It frequents lowlands and foothills with open areas and scattered places for perching and surveying for prey.  I also find shrikes in general to be somewhat fascinating in how they skewer their prey on sharp objects for feeding or caching, although that may be a bit morbid.  

This bird is both Federally Endangered and a CDFW Species of Special Concern.  At one point it was believed to be the most endangered animal in North America.

Most of my time living in California was spent in Los Angeles County, for my veterinary internship, working overnight emergency and then at the California Wildlife Center.  It was where I received most of my experience with wildlife. The common species found there are often quite different from other regions, mostly due to the dry climate and their tolerance of urbanization but each and every region has an amazing diversity of species that can be appreciated.

Duane

CURT and a TENT

Mr. Curtiss Clumpner is truly an icon in the oiled wildlife response industry. If you’ve been around long enough you’ve probably heard the phrase “all you need is Curt and a tent”. As a co-member of what I’d lovingly call the “Old Guard” I thought it would be interesting to highlight the history and motivation behind his singular career. This year he vacated his position on the UC Davis OWCN Management Team, so I thought he might finally have time to answer some questions. Neither Curt nor I are saying he’s retired. He’s just entering a new phase of his career. I hope those who read this blog find it interesting to get a fuller picture of what drove Curt to enter the profession, how he kept himself prepared and motivated to continue working in such a challenging field, and what his plans are as he begins Act II.

WM: What and when was your first spill response?

CC: My first “response” was the Whidbey Island Mystery Spill in Washington in 1984. I had started a Wildlife rehab program at PAWS in Lynnwood, WA a few years earlier and I volunteered at the center that was set up at a junior high school in Mukilteo and then we took some of the birds to our center. It was managed by another rehab organization. And I must admit in those days we did not know much about oil spills in Washington.

Whidbey Island Mystery Spill

Whidbey Island Mystery Spill

WM: What about spill response attracted you?

CC: Being a wildlife rehabilitator 365 days a year one of the most attractive things about spill response was that there was a start and an end. But it really came down to being one of the people who could do something when disaster struck. I wanted to be doing something not watching others. I have that reaction even in situations where I don’t have skills or training. I thought I should at least learn to be useful rather than the well intentioned volunteer under foot. Also the first spills were very chaotic and not very successful because of lack of knowledge and preparedness. I thought I could help change that.

WM: What was your favorite spill response and why?

CC: I think Punta Tombo Mystery Spill in 1991. In Argentina, unfunded, and asked to help by Dee Boersma who was working with Magellanic Penguins at a research station there. The initial team was Ken Brewer and me and later included Patty Chen-Valet and Chris Battaglia. Favorite because it was in Argentina, we were working with a new species, we had few resources, (we made a center out of a shipping container on the beach), we worked with some great students of Dee’s, and we had to essentially apply what we knew then which was not very much.

Punta Tombo Mystery Spill 1991

WM: What sacrifices did you make to have a career in emergency response?

CC: I think all wildlife rehabilitators sacrifice a lot to care for sick and injured wildlife. Long hours, little pay, the emotional toll of animals dying in many cases because of humans. With oil spill response you add being ready to go at a moment’s notice, not knowing when you will be back. It makes relationships and other commitments very challenging.

WM: How difficult was it for you to decide to leave your response job with OWCN and retire?

CC: It is always a big decision for me to change my life and retirement is the ultimate CHANGE. In work at least it has always been easier because I have left when I felt confident that the people taking my place have better skills to improve the profession of oiled wildlife response than I do. I was lucky when I left PAWS to have Jeanne Wasserman and Dr Flo Tseng ready to take the wildlife program at PAWS beyond what I ever dreamed. I think the same thing is true at OWCN. I know that all the teaming with the Member Organizations who are dedicated to making the OWCN greater than I could imagine. I will never really feel fully retired and hope to work with all the great people in oiled wildlife response again some time if the skills I can help.

WM: Would you follow this career path again?

CC: I often think about what I might have done different. I often thought about going back to school to learn more and be a better rehabilitator, but the time never seemed right. I feel incredibly lucky to have been in the right place at the right time so many times. I got to work with inspiring dedicated people around the world doing something I believed was important. I got to meet, work with, and learn from the pioneers as well as current leaders of wildlife rehabilitation and oiled response around the world. I can’t think career I would have rather have.

WM: Do you plan to respond now that you are retired and why? 

CC: I hope to. I hope to keep learning about wildlife and use the skill I have to continue to be involved in any way I can to support wildlife. I am lucky to be healthy in mind and body and want to “enjoy every sandwich” as they say.  Working or volunteering in oiled wildlife response, wildlife rehabilitation, wildlife field research, whatever I can find that is interesting and worthwhile. I am currently doing some part time planning work for OWCN and helping Deborah Jaques with her non-profit Pelican Science in monitoring brown pelicans along the West Coast, but I still dream (literally) about responses. Only time will tell.

 I am very thankful to all of the people I have worked with over the years and those who have supported my endeavors. I have learned so much from every one of them and have enjoyed the adventures we have all had together around the world.

I personally would like to thank Curt for his partnership on so many oil spill responses. We spent many long conversations (a.k.a., arguments) discussing ideas to improve our capabilities and care for wildlife better. We’ve always shared a passion for this field, and I count it a privilege to have so many great memories that include Curt. He’s been a treasured advisor and I’ve learned so much from him through the years.  Thank you Curt!

Why title this post Curt and a Tent? Way back when, while discussing what’s needed to respond to oiled wildlife, an oil spill response organization actually asked why wildlife responses require pre-existing facilities because “all you need is Curt and a tent”. Those of us involved back then have never let him forget it!

Wendy Massey

Thank Goodness for Virtual Outreach

I am certain, at this point in the pandemic, that you do not need a reminder about the challenges we’ve faced, or the lingering yearning for human interaction that many of us desire as we crawl out of isolation. But today I wanted to share thanks and praise for the technology developments that allow us to connect, albeit virtually and through small portals, on our computers or devices. 

With regard to our Oiled Wildlife Care Network training program, this past year and a half required us to transform our offerings into a completely online, virtual setting. Inherent challenges aside, we have discovered many benefits to connecting with our oiled wildlife responders located throughout our state:

  • An online engagement with 60+ new responders in February was a great way to welcome and inform our newest additions and offer direct answers to their burning questions.  This successful event confirmed that we should add this format to our engagement repertoire moving forward.

  • A virtual meet up with our advanced responders in April allowed us to review recent spill responses, practice working through our supervisor/strike team leader job aids, and reserved time to connect and discuss any pertinent topics. This accessible event solved one of our challenges, as we strive to connect with our advanced responders at least annually as they are often the first wave of response during a large incident. 

Beyond readiness, we have jumped headfirst into virtual outreach as well. Usually, springtime is loaded with outreach requests including local Davis classrooms, State Scientist Day in Sacramento, UC Davis Take your Children to Work Day, etc. As those in person events are still on hold, we have been working with teachers and students at the Pacific Charter Family of Schools: Sutter Peak Charter Academy, Heritage Peak Charter School, Rio Valley Charter School, and Valley View Charter Prep where we had the opportunity to provide some materials and lead virtual yet interactive oiled wildlife activities, followed by a brief presentation and ample Q & A time. 

In numerous sessions, we met with students in middle or high school via Zoom who all impressed our staff with their enthusiasm and insightful questions. My personal favorite moment was leading our feather drop experiment live with some middle school students, who were instructed to use a small pipette to release a few drops of water onto a clean goose feather. We had just finished explaining bird feather properties, but we all know seeing is believing, so as we instructed students to apply the drops, we heard numerous, excited exclamations of “It just rolls right off…didn’t soak in at all!”  Science sure can be satisfying. 

The students seemed to enjoy themselves during the event, and even the parents shared some encouraging words of gratitude:

“We are very thankful for all the work they do! I would have loved this experience when I was in school.”

“We love our school and the opportunities it provides. Neriah just finished a zoom class on oil spills and how they effect wildlife. She had so much fun!!!”

While the world unfurls, you may still have some students you know that could use an interactive activity or two.  The OWCN is currently working diligently to update and improve the outreach section of our website.  Our plan is to include many different activities and resources for students, teachers, and parents alike. 

But as a sneak peak, if you would like to lead an oiled wildlife activity at home, check out these resources: 

And if you have any questions, feel free to email us at owcn@ucdavis.edu

Thank you to all our responders, students and teachers who have remained as flexible as possible during these unique times.  And thank you to technology, for providing us with a pathway of connection that I never realized was so desperately needed.

Scott Buhl – Field Ops Readiness Coordinator

Ask a Vet: Getting to know your new Care Veterinarian – Dr. Jamie Sherman

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a wildlife veterinarian? How about what it’s like to work with giant or dangerous species? For Jamie’s first ever blog post, we asked YOU what you’d like to know about our new Care Vet.

What is your favorite land species? Marine species? 

Every time I get asked this question, I like to share a little anecdote – When I was around a year and half, my family went camping in Sequoia National Park. As my parents were packing up the car to go home, they put me in my car seat atop the campground picnic table (which also had items left out for one last lunch). All of a sudden, they heard some rustling and when they turned around they saw a bear helping itself to our lunch, right next to my car seat. My parents didn’t want to spook the bear into noticing me or knocking me off the table, so they calmly waited as the bear finished our salami sandwiches, chips and Oreos, then continued on its way. My sister who was 4 at the time watched the whole ordeal from the car with my parents, and to this day she remembers being terrified…but mostly because she didn’t want to share her Oreos. I like to think of this as the first sign that American black bears (Ursus americanus) would become an important part of my life. Since that first encounter, I’ve dedicated nearly a third of life to studying black bear populations and rehabilitating orphaned/injured bears across California. I even have a black bear tattoo! My favorite marine species is the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) because…I love bears. 

Jamie (far left) camping with her sisters in Sequoia National Park
Jamie at the San Francisco Zoo

Fun Fact #1: Jamie was born in California but grew up on the East Coast, until she moved back to California for graduate school. 

What’s the biggest animal you’ve ever worked with?

The largest animal I’ve ever worked with is also the largest animal to walk on land – the African elephant (Loxodonta africana). Did you know that African elephants can weigh up to 6 tons and stand over 11 feet tall? I had the opportunity to work with these majestic species during an undergraduate study abroad program in South Africa. As a part of this program, I worked 1-on-1 with wildlife veterinarians from the Kruger National Park to perform health assessments on African lions (Panthera leo), black rhinos (Diceros bicornis), Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), and of course, elephants. Don’t worry, they were all safely sleeping (anesthetized) for their exams!

Fun Fact #2: Jamie was featured on a PBS documentary entitled, “Teens Behind the Wheel.” She was named the safest teen driver, a title she still boasts about today. 

What is a usual day like for you?

One thing (of many) that I love about being a wildlife veterinarian is that there is no such thing as a “usual” day. Although every day might be a little (or a lot) different than the last, the daily tasks for an OWCN veterinarian come back to the four “R’s” – Readiness, Response, Research and Reaching out:

  • Readiness – maintaining and updating inventories of medical supplies, developing and evaluating protocols for any and all species that might be affected by oil, attending continuing education trainings in order to keep our veterinary skills fresh, participating in drills, nurturing relationships with OWCN member organizations, primary care facilities and volunteers
  • Response – deterring animals from entering oil-affected areas, safely collecting and providing first aid to oil-affected animals, diagnosing and treating concurrent diseases or injuries, washing oil-affected animals, rehabilitating animals post-wash to ensure complete return of fitness, and the ultimate goal…release
  • Research – writing and reviewing research proposals, obtaining funding for primary research, ensuring appropriate and humane care, use and treatment of any animals involved in research, including correct permitting
  • Reaching out – conducting trainings for OWCN volunteers, writing for the OWCN blog, teaching/training veterinary students, responding to media requests, publishing research

Fun Fact #3: Jamie was afraid of dogs until she was 14 years old!

What research would you love to conduct?

I love doing research because it empowers me to think of a question, figure out how to answer that question, and disseminate those results to the community. Research is an integral part of OWCN’s mission to provide the best achievable capture and care of oil-affected wildlife and I currently have a few ideas up my sleeve. I am really interested in the use of infrared/thermal imaging for evaluating waterproofing in feathered marine species AND for determining oiling status of hairless/featherless species such as amphibians and reptiles. 

Fun Fact #4: Jamie has traveled to 5 out of the 7 continents.

If you had one piece of advice for someone interested in working with wildlife, what would it be?

My best advice for someone interested in a career in wildlife is, GET INVOLVED. Find a way to shadow or volunteer with someone in the field or an organization you are interested in. And don’t be discouraged if you get a few “nos” before you get a “yes.” Your first experience “working with wildlife” may entail filing paperwork, cleaning cages, preparing diets, sweeping the floors, or just watching, but it is a foot in the door. Every opportunity is an opportunity to learn and grow. If you show respect, enthusiasm, and a good work ethic, that door will eventually swing wide open! If you are interested in hearing more about how I applied these principles to my career path, check out this Evotis article.

Jamie with her first bear patient who had a severe case of mange, but with treatment made a full recovery!


Thank you to everyone for submitting your questions! If you have any burning questions that weren’t answered, or were sparked by this blog post please leave a comment or connect with us on Facebook or Instagram!

Your new Care Vet, 

Jamie 

Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Julie Yamamoto

Julie Yamamoto is currently the Deputy Administrator for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Her fascination with wildlife began at an early age. “As a kid I watched every episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, Jane Goodall TV specials, and read all the books about animals at my local library. My parents probably thought my obsession a little odd but (luckily for me) encouraged me, nevertheless. Fast forward 20 years-ish, I finished an MS in Avian Biology, then pursued a Doctorate in Environmental Toxicology from UC Davis, for which I studied pesticide impacts in raptors. Wildlife toxicology is a very cool blend of physiology, pharmacology and even ecology, and I thought I could do some good for the planet by pursuing a career in studying and trying to fix pollution issues. Once out of school, I worked for a time as a scientist at CalEPA and found it was not a good fit for me; I struggled to feel that my work was making a difference. I was fortunate to 1) realize it was not the job for me; and 2) to have been recruited by a supervisor that I knew at CDFW OSPR, Dr. Rob Ricker.”

OSPR’s mission to provide the best achievable protection of California’s natural resources by preventing, preparing for, and responding to spills of oil and enhancing affected resources really spoke to Julie’s passion for conservation, and she could not pass up the opportunity. “So, I jumped into a career in oil spill response in part because the opportunity presented itself, and it seemed exciting, but also because it allowed me to blend both my toxicology and wildlife expertise. It was also neat because most of my wildlife work had been in terrestrial systems (mainly birds) and at OSPR I had to learn about marine systems, seabirds, sea otters, etc – a whole new frontier for me!” So, in 2000, Julie was hired on with OSPR and began her career as a toxicologist supervisor. 

Seven years later, she accepted an executive appointment and has been filling that role with several different titles ever since. “I directly oversee the scientific and technical program in OSPR but also do a lot of work on fiscal, interagency coordination and legislative/policy issues. I have to say – when I was initially thinking about promotions, I had my doubts about whether I was cut out for management; but my early experience as a staff scientist with the state made me think about how important it was that the work of scientists be applied and used in decision making and policy. So that, plus some encouragement from colleagues, changed my mind. Even though I gave up the hands-on science, which was a big consideration for me, it has been a really rewarding path and I love the great variety of work I have on my plate every day. Some of the best times I can recall in my work are during big spill responses, admittedly exhausting and stressful affairs, working alongside really excellent professionals from inside and outside my organization, pushing ourselves to our limits, having each other’s backs, in pursuit of a common mission. You just can’t beat that!”.   

I asked Julie about what kind of struggles she faced as a young professional, and as it turns out she was quite lucky. Throughout her career she has been able to avoid discrimination. “I have felt, for the majority of my career, respected and able to do my work. I am aware of course that this has not been the case for a lot of women and some of my own colleagues. Still – there have certainly been times, especially starting out, when I have felt like a bit of an outsider, sort of not ‘belonging’ in the oil spill response, or even my own Department’s, culture. Also, I am a natural introvert and I think that can exacerbate feelings of “invisibleness” in certain situations.” In reflecting on what helped her overcome those things, she said “I think one of the biggest factors has always been the great colleagues that I have had. I came to be good at, and happy in, my work in large part because people around me supported me and were good teammates, mentors, and friends. Everyone feels self-doubt, fear, and frustration at some point in their jobs – having supportive people to turn to, and supporting them as well, is crucial to dealing with these feelings and to developing resilience. Also, I always focused on what my contributions could be to a specific incident or other problem, tried to bring the best science and creative thinking that I could. In other words, I tried to be very competent! And in the end, this allowed me to be a valuable contributor at work and find my place as a team member. It gave me confidence to push myself further.”  

Photo Credit: Julie Yamamoto

Other things that aided her in overcoming obstacles she faced were her persistence, dedication, and having examples of other women scientists and leaders along the way to inspire her. “Early in my career, there were not many such examples, but fortunately that’s changed for the better over the years. I hope by being where I am that I can help the women in my program and elsewhere envision themselves working at this level and beyond. As someone before me has said, ‘If you can see it, you can be it!’” In regard to what it is like to be a woman with a strong career, lots of responsibility and a family, Julie says that she has seen “definite improvements in workplace policies and cultures that promote greater diversity, the right to a respectful workplace for ALL, and accommodating the needs of various groups. I am a mom of 2 with an aging parent, so I know firsthand that family demands of all kinds are a factor for women and their careers. Workplaces with policies and investments that accommodate this reality is critical.  I was listening to a podcast about the challenges for working women during the pandemic and loved this quote: “Your job doesn’t understand you have kids, and your kids don’t understand you have a job”.  Which ties into a recent global poll of scientists I saw recently that was done by Nature and showed that there are declines in research activity across the board but most acutely for women researchers, early into their careers, with young kids.” I think this speaks volumes about the challenges working women face in their everyday lives, makes us grateful for the changes that have occurred in recent years to support working women, but also shows how much more work needs to be done to allow for the balance of work, family, and children.  

-Jennie

Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Michelle Bellizzi

Michelle Bellizzi found herself immersed in the oil spill response industry not long after she began volunteering with International Bird Rescue in the winter of 1999. Shortly after she started, she was thrown into the Luckenbach spill incident. The Jacob Luckenbach ship sank in 1953, and over the years that followed began releasing oil that was the cause of many spill responses. This was her first real exposure to the wildlife response aspect of oil spill response, and she dove in headfirst.

Being a part of the response industry has brought both challenges and rewards. She states that “the spill response industry is a very well-established and male-dominated field that prides itself on a job efficiently and effectively done, and some of hardest challenges I have experienced have been trying to explain the patient-driven processes involved in a wildlife response to folks outside of the veterinary/rehabilitation field. When we are able to achieve buy-in and respect from folks who may not have initially been interested is supporting our operations through our professionalism and expertise is a reward that keeps on giving and will help protect wildlife beyond our hands-on response efforts”. 

Despite the challenges, there have been many rewarding experiences. A few of her favorites include “working with the amazing and pointy great crested grebes in south America that survived a month on a gravel substrate, baby pelicans during a spill in Louisiana, and the magic of washing and rinsing every bird”. By her own admission, Michelle states that she became involved with oiled wildlife response, and continues to invest her time, energy, and dedication to the wildlife response industry because the rewards far outweigh the challenges.  At the end of the day, all the sacrifices are worth it because she gets to meet and work with “some of the greatest people and animals, ever, in some of the most beautiful places on earth (the far north, and the far south have been my favorites).  I love what I do because the work always involves an incredible team of people, learning, creating, innovating, and it is truly a  privilege to work with these amazing animals”. 

Michelle’s experience with International Bird Rescue, and other women she met through the spill response industry has been an incredible one. “Most of the professionals I encountered – the directors, workers, and researchers were women.  My own organization, International Bird Rescue, is celebrating our 50th year after being founded by an amazing woman, Alice Berkner, and International Bird Rescue has always attracted lots of women interested in giving back to their communities”. Her advice to others interested in getting involved and making wildlife response a part of their life is “it’s worth getting involved!”.  

Photo Credit: Michelle Bellizzi and Mike Ziccardi

-Jennie

Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Barbara Callahan

Barbara Callahan is the Senior Director of Response and Preparedness Services for International Bird Rescue. She has been a part of oil spill response for the past 25 years and has seen a lot of growth in this industry since she first got started. In the mid 1990’s, there was a lot less acceptance for wildlife response in the broader oil spill response field than there is today, and that is largely due to the time, energy, and dedication of Barbara and others who have worked in this field for years to professionalize wildlife response. These efforts have encouraged the oil industry to be more accepting of the wildlife response component of spill response. 

When Barbara first set out in her quest for a career, she didn’t set out to be in the oil spill business, but she states that “as a biologist and wildlife rehabilitator, I was certainly drawn to the opportunity to help wildlife. It was clear to me that International Bird Rescue really knew how to care for oiled wildlife, particularly aquatic birds and I knew I could learn so much from being part of their team”.  Her first spill out of the U.S. was the Erika spill in France and it was quickly followed by the Treasure spill, which was the largest and most successful spill response ever, with over 20,000 oiled African penguins. She and her team were on that response for over three months. In reflecting on these incidents, she states that “this was the first time in my career that I realized the massive organization required to successfully respond to a spill and when I first became interested in the emergency management side of response. It’s just not enough to know how to care for the wildlife if you can’t merge that knowledge with being able to get the team on the ground, be able to support them well and provide all the equipment and supplies they need”. 

Treasure Oil Spill, South Africa June 2000 Photo credit: International Bird Rescue

When asked about the highlights of her career so far, and the memories that stick out the most, Barbara believes these two go hand in hand. It’s the people she says, and “getting to know colleagues from all over the world, many of whom have become friends I will cherish for life” is one of her favorite aspects. But it’s also the team dynamics that really stick out.  “I realize what an amazing team I got to work with and I’m not just speaking about the International Bird Rescue Team but the wider team including all those we work with in spills”. Furthermore, in respect to her career goals in wildlife rehabilitation, she states that “I know from experience that planning will help save wildlife impacted by oil and that’s what my entire career has been about, so I take a great deal of satisfaction in seeing those improved wildlife plans”. She also notes that she’s “never more proud of the International Bird Rescue team than when we’re responding to an emergency as the dedication and commitment to wildlife is amazing and shows in everything they do during a response.”

Barbara has had a diverse career thus far, and in the spirit of inspiring other women interested in this industry she encourages women to follow their passion and chase their dreams. “Women are present in all aspects of oiled wildlife response, as well as the wider field of oil spill response, including State On-Scene Coordinators and other IMT roles, wildlife trustees, planners and regulators so follow your interest and do good work if you want to help respond to wildlife in oil spills!”. 

Thank you, Barbara, for being such an incredible influence in this industry, and such a wonderful role model for everyone around you!

-Jennie