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Counting Penguins for Science

I discovered a love for citizen science projects a few years ago, when a friend got me hooked on Snapshot Serengeti. After creating an account on their website, I had the chance to click through trail cam photos from a national park and conservation area in Tanzania. My goal was to find, identify, and count the animals captured in those photos to help with a population survey and create the dataset that would support many studies–from how and where animals move and cluster in the park, to how that changes over time.

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Snapshot Serengeti features many amazing captures, like this one, on their blog.

As bored grad students know, many trail cam captures are duds, when the camera is triggered by swaying grass or other non-animal movement. But every few photos I’d catch a glimpse of Tanzanian wildlife in their natural environment: elephants, antelope, lions, and so many more. Oh, and wildebeests. So many, many wildebeests.   I don’t remember much of that weekend, it is lost in a fog of wildebeests and concentration, but I do know I was on a mission to find and identify my very own aardwolf capture.

Since that weekend, I’ve come to love and support many crowd-sourced science projects (many of which I discovered through Zooniverse, a platform for participants and researchers interested in crowd-sourced data collection projects. Scientific American also keeps a running list of projects). You can spy on penguins, characterize bat calls, and map the hills of Mars. You can measure hurricanes, track snow cover, and transcribe nautical logs to advance our understanding of our weather and climate. You can participate in amazing and important things.

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Penguin Watch is a currently running project similar to Snapshot Serengeti.

In this age when science is so often viewed as opaque, dated, scary, or irrelevant, citizen science gives me great hope. We need skilled science communicators, and there are many people out there doing great work–including organizations and individuals right here in the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. But citizen science goes one step further. In addition to providing another way to learn about how science is conducted, it actually asks people to participate and invest in real, current research projects. Making science so accessible and allowing volunteers to have such an important role in data collection lets people from all walks of life experience what scientists already know: how great science is, and how exciting it can be to contribute to humanity’s collective knowledge.

So check it out! And then get everyone you know to check it out too.

You won’t be sorry you did.

Steph

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Creatures Great and Small

As many of you are probably aware, the OWCN was activated this past weekend to respond to the Grove Incident Oil Spill in Ventura County.  Thanks to the quick work of early responders, the oil was contained before it could reach the ocean.  However, a stretch of dry gorge was contaminated, and cleanup efforts – including wildlife deterrence and searches by OWCN responders – are now underway.  You can get more information on the spill and response efforts from the Cal Spill Watch page, just click here.

I won’t steal Field Operations’s thunder – Hazing and Recovery have been doing an amazing job and I look forward to hearing more about their efforts in the near future! I’m sure we’ll all be discussing and learning from this early inland response over the coming months as well.

That said, I find it interesting to think about the types of animals that have been collected so far: wood rats, a gopher snake, a raccoon, and a rabbit.  (Unfortunately only one of these animals was collected alive; the collection of deceased animals from a spill zone is important for a number of reasons, including to reduce the attractiveness of the area to scavengers and to help with Natural Resource Damage Assessment).  

None of these species are highly visible or “charismatic”.  But they’re the type of animals we’re likely to encounter often in inland spill response – rodents, other small mammals, small reptiles, and in soggier habitats, amphibians too.  They’re easy to overlook and take for granted, and they’re not flashy like whales and mountain lions and albatrosses, but they each fill an important place in the ecosystem.

And that’s our mission – to provide the best achievable capture and care to oil-affected wildlife, great or small.  To meet that goal, we’ve got to get to know them all.  I know I’ve certainly got a lot to learn – probably enough to fill a lifetime.

But that’s OK with me.  One of my favorite things is how easy it is to be surprised when it comes to animals.  Just by taking a closer look at a species’ natural history, even a species you thought was boring or mundane, you can find fascinating things.

For example, let’s take the lowly woodrat.  Did you know that woodrats are also commonly known as packrats, and are usually not particularly pesky to people – unlike their invasive cousins, the Norway and black rats – except when they set up their nests in inconvenient locations or steal shiny things to line those nests with?  They drum their hind feet when alarmed, Desert Woodrats are scary good at navigating cacti without injuring themselves, and Stephens’s Woodrats eat a great deal of juniper but don’t seem to be affected by the chemical compounds that make the plant indigestible to most other mammals.

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It doesn’t end there!  Nests (aka middens) can be used by successive generations of woodrats, each building onto what the last generation left behind.  Fossilized middens provide an invaluable source of information to scientists looking to understand historical biomes and ecosystems.

I’ll admit that I have a soft spots for rodents (that’s what you get when you’re raised by a squirrel rehabilitator) but still!  I find it impossible to investigate a species without finding something interesting along the way.  So I invite you to join me in my quest to get to know all of California’s wildlife.  If you find anything particularly cool, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll see if can dig up some interesting facts to share in some future post.

Take care until next time!

Steph

Summer is here!

While the official launch of summer (June 20th) is still a few weeks away, it sure feels like summer weather here in Davis!  And amidst the early heat, one of my projects has been tending to our fleet of boats to ensure they are prepped and ready to be deployed for spill response, if needed.

Which prompted this blog post…did you know that the OWCN has a fleet of 3 boats of various size and ability located at UC Davis that can be used for spill response?  If not, please let me introduce you to our floating resources:

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Type: Zodiac MK II C HD
Length: 12′ 6″
Nickname: The Purring Murre
Description: This compact inflatable is a great resource that can be towed behind the Wildlife Recovery Sprinter van so can often be one of the first options on scene.  It can even ride in the Sprinter or other vehicle as it folds up into a nice little bundle.  Because of its relatively small size, it can easily be launched from a beach or dock, and is maneuverable in narrow or relatively shallow waters.

345617_p_t_640x480_image03Type: Gregor H-22
Length: 12′ 2″
Nickname: The Hazing Boat
Description: This durable vessel provides us with a secondary compact option and, even though its original purpose is for hazing, it could be used for wildlife recovery as well.

 

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Type: Alumaweld Super Vee
Length: 19′ 0″
Nickname: The Screaming Grebe
Description:  This is the racehorse of the fleet, as it is our longest boat and has a 115hp four stroke outboard engine.

So there you have it.  But rest assured that if a spill response requires an on-water response, these vessels will be a great resource for going out to capture wildlife or for use in hazing.

Not sure about you…but all this talk about boats and hot weather is making me daydream of spending the day floating on the nearest lake.  However you choose to spend it, enjoy the beautiful weekend!

Scott

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Encouragement from the Next Generation

Here at headquarters, we deal with a lot of mail on behalf of the Network – advertisements, catalogues, invitations, and by far the most exciting: notes of encouragement.  Often these notes come from enthusiastic young people who have been learning about oil, oil spills, and the environment.

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By Parshall

We’re always thrilled to receive these thoughtful notes and drawings.  They’re a reminder that not only are we working for the animals, but we’re working to preserve the wonder of the natural world for future generations.  The animals aren’t able to speak for themselves (and if they could, they’d tell us to stay away from them), but these students, our developing researchers, advocates, innovators, volunteers, and spill responders, certainly can.

So I’ll let the voices of our future take it from here!

“Thank you for saving every plant, animal, or any kind of anything… I would want to work there too. But I’m only 9 years old. I’ll probably work there when I’m older.” – Ava

“Thank you for taking care of our environment. Without you, thousands of animals would have perished. We thank you for giving your time and effort… The thing that concerns me the most about an oil spill is that one might hurt the environment for good.” – Sophie

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By Suzanna, Ava, Rhea, Kate, Sarah, and Sam

“We are writing this letter to thank you for saving wildlife from oil spills. Recently, we have been learning about how hard your job is and what it takes to save poor animals from oil. We did experiments that helped us learn about how hard your job would be on a daily basis. We also learned how delicate you have to be with the animals to ensure that they don’t get hurt… We would also like to thank you… again. For the effort and hard work. Also that you save all those animals.” – Nikkie, Lisa, Lily, and Andy

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By Libby

Thank you for helping animals that have been effected by oil spills… I love all animals so when I hear about an oil spill my first thought is, “Are the animals okay?” – a 5th grader

“I am writing to thank you for keeping our oceans and marine life free of oil pollution. My class and I know that it is hard work because we did a pie-pan oil spill cleanup experiment… My group and I discovered that this is not an easy task. We can’t even imagine trying to clean up real-life oil spill in the ocean and handle real, breathing, wiggling animals.  Again I want to thank you so much for volunteering to make a difference for the environment. Your time and effort to keep our ocean life oil-free is highly appreciated by millions and, most importantly, by Mother Earth. Keep up the great work!” – Emma

OWCN Member Organization Engagement

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The Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s Member Organizations

As a member of the OWCN management team located at UC Davis, I am often asked a very simple question: What is the Oiled Wildlife Care Network?  While the answer may seem relatively simple, I find myself often providing a long winded response, as I attempt to portray that the OWCN is a united force composed of diverse organizations that individually excel but collectively impress.  In the words of Aristotle, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

So along with a strong pride for this cohesive resource comes a responsibility to support and engage our member organization community.  While many are likely aware of our public outreach efforts, others may not realize that we also offer internal outreach which we have chosen to term engagement. Member organization engagement provides a fantastic opportunity for OWCN management staff to connect directly with our member organization’s staff and volunteers (some of which are current OWCN responders, others are hopefully future responders).  The format and presentation style of these engagement events can be customized based on the specific member organization involved, but often consists of an informational overview presentation to both staff and volunteers with a specific highlight on how folks can get further involved and properly pre-trained for spill response.

We have already lined up a few of these events in the coming months with member organizations, including:

  • April 28th – The Marine Mammal Center
  • May 21st – Monterey Bay Aquarium & Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center
  • August 12th – Lindsay Wildlife Experience

If you are involved with a member organization listed above and wish to learn more about the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, make sure to attend!

If you believe your member organization would benefit from hosting an OWCN engagement event this year, please let us know by emailing us at spbuhl@ucdavis.edu.

Cheers to our amazing member orgs!

-Scott

What is a Furnado?

If you google ‘Furnado’, you might find yourself wandering off topic, gazing at fantastic photos of Furna Do Enxofre (a volcanic cave located on Portugal’s Azores Islands).  But a Furnado in our context is actually a term I first heard via our colleagues at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC), referring to the tornado of fur seals in distress that have been hitting our California coastline as of late.

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Northern fur seal pup @ TMMC

Upon hearing that TMMC had rescued more than 30 Guadalupe fur seals by the middle of 2015, and then rescued over 100 Northern fur seals before year end, I recognized that these numbers were truly unprecedented.  In my former staff role at TMMC, I would have been focused on the task of recruiting and training additional volunteers to help care for this onslaught of feisty pinnipeds.  But in my new staff role with the OWCN, two very different thoughts came to mind:

  1. With the current unusual oceanic conditions out there, and the fur seal’s dependence upon their dense fur coat for proper thermoregulation, our network better be prepared for the possibility of responding to these less common pinnipeds should an oil spill occur (Good News: Thanks to Refugio, our Network is more prepared today than we were this time last year to launch a large scale oiled marine mammal response!)
  2. While every one of our 35 Member Organizations is essential to the strength and depth of knowledge comprising our Network, we should send a shout out of thanks to our marine mammal focused Member Organizations, as they had a demanding year in 2015, and may need some words of encouragement going into what looks to be a busy 2016.

So in reference to that second thought above, let me express my attitude of gratitude toward our fantastic marine mammal responders out there, and remind you all that your willingness to go above and beyond does not go unnoticed.  And to prove that point, below are links to just a few articles discussing the very topic of fur seal overload or simply the deluge of pinnipeds over the last year, with each of them specifically highlighting our marine mammal centric Member Organizations which include:

Additional articles on the topic:

Keep up the good work!

Scott

Why I Work with Wildlife

At some point in time, almost all people that rescue wildlife are asked “Why do you do it?” Sometimes after a summer of long, hard days we also have to ask ourselves. While there are many reasons, I just want to share one of them with you.

My husband & I have been busy at work this summer, but the stars aligned so we were able to get a few days off at the same time to backpack the Lost Coast. Its a 24 mile stretch of northern California coast that was never developed since the terrain is so rugged that engineers decided to take Highway 1 inland rather than try to push through. Its been on our bucket list for some time.

It was the most physically demanding backpacking trip I’ve ever been on. Not the most in miles, but the terrain was really tough. Jumping from beach rock to beach rock on slanted surfaces for miles on end. Also, we had to keep a reasonable pace in order to make it through the sections that can’t be passed during high tides. The rocks ended up ripping the sole off one of my boots. Good thing Gorilla Tape is TOUGH! Even so, it was quite worth it, especially the southern section of the trail. Very pristine. Less people. More wildlife.

We woke up one morning to an otter family chirping at each other. A momma and two kits about 2/3 her size. Mom had already caught a 10″ long, thin fish. It took her about 20 minutes to eat it. During this time she was sitting on a rock outcropping on the beach. The ocean waves kept coming in and bowling over her kits. While she was eating she didn’t seem to care. However, once she had a full tummy, she became a fantastic Mom. She took the kits out into the ocean. First she caught a small fish that she gave to the smaller kit. The kit swam it in to shore and started feasting with rapt attention. In the meantime, Mom caught a crab and gave it to the other kit. Both kits were beyond belief adorable with cute otter faces and butts!

Once the kit on shore finished eating, he suddenly remembered that he wasn’t near his family, so he started chirping frantically. Mom answered and he started to swim to her, chirping the whole way until he was on top of a wave and could see her. Then he stopped chirping. However as the wave fell and he couldn’t see her he started to panic and chirp again. Once on top of the wave and in view again, he stopped chirping. He repeated this 3 times before he reached Mom. It was quite comical since he wasn’t in any danger. When he finally got near Mom, he immediately jumped on her back for a ride. Because he was so big, he almost drowned her. Once he calmed down, she kicked him off. We ended up watching them for about an hour!

So this is one reason that I work for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network: To work to preserve and raise awareness of the importance of pristine wilderness and the wildlife that depends on it. When I am exhausted from writing one more protocol, checking a training status in the database, or gavaging one more seabird, I think about what these animals would be doing if it weren’t for our communal dependence on fossil fuels. Then I resolve that I will do everything in my power to make sure if any animal is oiled that it has the best chance possible to return to its wild life.

–Nancy

Start of the Lost Coast Trail

Start of the Lost Coast Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Punta Gorda Lighthouse

 

 

View of Lost Coast

View of Lost Coast

 

 

Otter family

Otter family

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking on rocks!

Hiking on rocks!

 

 

Look what we found outside our tent...bear tracks!

Look what we found outside our tent…bear tracks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of the trail!

End of the trail!