My week at The Marine Mammal Center: Seals, sea lions, fur seals and much, much more!


Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is the beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

As you may know, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) was established 25 years ago with the goal of bringing together universities, regulatory agencies, and wildlife care organizations with the interest of working collaboratively to rescue and rehabilitate oiled wildlife. Today, the network has more than 40 Member Organizations and is recognized as a world leader in oiled wildlife response. As part of Readiness and Reaching Out (two of our four R’s) we regularly work with our Member Organizations to build relationships and refine our wildlife capture and care skills.

Last month I had the opportunity to spend a week at The Marine Mammal Center. The Marine Mammal Center is one of our Member Organizations and is the world’s largest marine mammal rehabilitation hospital. Since my past marine mammal experience was limited to working with captive pinnipeds and wild sea otters undergoing rehabilitation, I was in for a real treat (and a steep learning curve).


Danene Birtell, OWCN (left) with Christina Caporale (middle) and Kelly Franky (right), both from the North Carolina Zoo, work together to identify animals that need to be weighed. Credit © The Marine Mammal Center

One of the first lessons I learned was that the herding boards are your best friend and a VERY useful tool, especially with curious California sea lions.  After my orientation I was paired with members of “Crew”, who are very knowledgeable volunteers. During my visit I was able to spend three days on Crew and the only word I have for these individuals is AMAZING! I had the opportunity to learn about animal behavior, diet preparation, animal restraint, documentation, communication, and so much more. The Crew volunteers were very patient anexcellent mentors to all of the visitors. I also had the chance to refresh my veterinary technician skills by spending two days with the Veterinary Science team. I assisted with various types of medical procedures, ranging from intake exams to sedating animals for x-rays and wound management.

Another highlight was the opportunity to work with other visitors who traveled to Sausalito to assist The Marine Mammal Center with the unusually high number of animals that came in this summer. Many of the visitors were from zoos and aquariums, which reminded me of the importance of transdisciplinary collaboration and team building outside of our immediate circle of colleagues.

As we reflect on 25 years since the inception of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network I can honestly say that we have come together, stayed together, and continue to work together to ensure we put our best foot forward to save wildlife impacted by environmental stressors. A HUGE thank you to the OWCN Management Team and The Marine Mammal Center staff and volunteers for all of your support during my visit. Oh, and by the way, I love elephant seals!

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Elephant seal @ The Marine Mammal Center
Credit © The Marine Mammal Center



Danene Birtell -Readiness Coordinator, Oiled Wildlife Care Network

Strategic Surgeries for Saving Lives

During the past two weeks, I had the great pleasure of spending some time at our nearest Member Organization, International Bird Rescue, located at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC). You may remember I spent some time there back in October refreshing my animal handling skills and getting to know some of the staff and volunteers. This time, I spent my time shadowing their veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca (Becky) Duerr. As someone who is constantly learning, it is always of great value to see what fellow veterinarians do with their patients in order to glean any golden bits of knowledge.

Some cases that were particularly intriguing to me were a Black-Crowned Night-Heron (BCNH) with a scalping injury and a Common Murre (COMU) with a patagial wound. The BCNH was a fledgling bird that had a substantial portion of the skin on its head adhered to its skull. To fix this, Becky removed the dead tissue, undermined the live tissue, and advanced the skin from its neck up and over the top of its head (called an advancement flap). At its most recent recheck, the skin and sutures were still intact and the bird was doing well, with some areas of skin already healing after only seven days.

The COMU was an adult bird that had a patagial wound likely caused by fishing line entanglement, a problem for which many birds are euthanized. To preserve the bird’s exposed patagial tendon, Becky performed a procedure I hadn’t seen in a bird before- a skin graft. She harvested skin from the bird’s hip area and relocated the skin to its patagium. Although it is too early yet to tell how well the graft will take in this bird, Becky has grafted many a lucky bird whose life was spared by this procedure.

During major oil spills with large numbers of birds, we typically treat animals from a herd health perspective, but it’s always great to have knowledge of procedures such as these that we can employ when we have the time and resources available to treat our patients on a more individualized basis.

– Lorraine



Black-Crowned Night-Heron with a severe scalp injury (under anesthesia, just prior to surgery)


Same Black-Crowned Night-Heron a week after receiving surgery with an advancement flap to treat its severe scalp wounds



Common Murre with a patagial wound (under anesthesia, just prior to surgery)


Same Common Murre following surgery, now with a skin graft covering its patagial wound

And the next Oilapalooza will be – wait for it…

Scott, Greg, and I are on our way back from the latest Basic Responder Training at the Marine Wildlife Care Center, located on Humboldt State University’s campus in Arcata. The last time I was in Arcata was nearly 20 years ago for the predecessor of the BRT, which was called Advanced Supervisors Training. Interestingly, this was the first time I met Greg. We only know this because of photographic evidence – neither of us actually remembers meeting each other, but we have actually known each since 2001, not 2010.

The Basic Responder Training brought in members from Shasta Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Humboldt State University, and a strong showing from Bird Ally X @ Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. We actually have a lot of Network members in this region. We had the chance to visit the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center and check out the new location of the Institute for Wildlife Studies – one of our hazing and collection Network members that is also based in Arcata.


I forgot just how much is happening in this area, and just how beautiful it is. The drive up through the redwoods was stunning. We arrived early the day before the BRT, which gave us plenty of time to check out the incredible facilities of our hotel – the Best Western Plus, Humboldt Bay Inn located in Eureka – which has a solarium with a pool table, a swimming-pool-sized hot tub with a waterfall, and tikki bar with fire pits. Just a couple blocks away is old town Eureka, which has an incredible food Co-op and a lot of great restaurants.

You may be wondering right about now why I’m rambling about hotels and towns in this distant refuge behind the redwood curtain. That’s because this is where we’ll be hosting the next Oilapalooza, this October 16-17th!!! With the improved highways and direct flights from LA, access to this beautiful destination will be much easier for all of our member organizations.

As if the Network partners, natural beauty, and incredible wildlife (not to mention the spill history) of this region weren’t enough, we’ve already started planning for some incredible workshops, lectures, and hands-on experiences. Stay tuned for more on that. For now, save the date: October 16-17th2019. Additional information and registration details coming soon.

oilapalooza is coming

Hope to see some of you in Humboldt County!!

~ Danene


Danene Birtell – OWCN Readiness Coordinator





Inland Response Readiness Update – With a Video Debut!

The OWCN management staff are busy working on many concurrent projects here in Davis, but one shared project we have all been spending time on has been increasing our inland response readiness.

We have secured additional field and care equipment for inland species, began to draft detailed protocols, added significantly to our mobile response gear, and even welcomed some fantastic new Member Organizations whose locations and expertise immediately improve our inland readiness. If you view the 2018 OWCN Member Organization map below, you will see that we have spread east from the coast, welcoming some amazing new groups over the last few years, including:

NEW California Map shutterstock_135005765 [Converted]

As a reminder, the impetus for our inland expansion came from Senate Bill 861 in 2014, which expanded oiled wildlife response to cover all statewide surface waters.  This legislative mandate was based on numerous factors, some of which are discussed in the video below by our illustrious Deputy Directors, as well as brief recap of our first inland Full Deployment Drill held in Quincy in 2017.

Video courtesy of our former Wildlife Health Center communication guru, Justin Cox (we miss you, buddy!)


New OWCN-IBR Collaboration Seems Like Old Times

Last month I traveled with Barbara Callahan from OWCN Member Organization International Bird Rescue (IBR) to Baku, Azerbaijan. What made this training especially significant was that this was the first international training project that OWCN and IBR collaborated on as partners from start to finish. Our mission was to help increase the level of preparedness for oiled wildlife response in that country. We were there on behalf of BP, the managing partner of the BTC Pipeline Company. The pipeline runs from south of Baku on the Caspian Sea to the Lesser Caucasus Mountains through Georgia and then to the Ceyhan Terminal in Turkey on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.



BTC Pipeline (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan)

City of contrasts (1)

City of contrasts: the old and the new

It was not the first time I had been to this corner of the world, and over the years I have come to appreciate this city of contrasts and of seemingly constant change. Simply looking at the skyline provides evidence of the immense influence of oil on this city and country.

While the OWCN continues to expand within California and along with our Member Organizations, we work to increase our readiness and improve our capacity for spills, we are also seeking opportunities to leverage our knowledge and experience to help other areas of the world as well. Through collaborations as represented with this training, as well as other projects we are involved with, such as the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System, we are working to share our knowledge as well as bring back the experiences of those we meet around the world.

The training in Baku included more than 100 participants from a diversity of NGOs, government agencies and industry (a few if them include the Institute of Geology, the Baku Zoo, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Baku Veterinary Department, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, the Azerbaijan Society for the Protection of Animals, the Institute of Zoology, BP, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan and many more).  These various groups came together during the training to learn basic concepts of oiled wildlife response and to develop basic plans for setting up a wildlife facility.  The diversity of backgrounds and participant age enriched the discussion with a variety of perspectives, opinions and questions, increasing the learning and enjoyment for us all.

Facility plan team

Developing a facility plan

Facility exercise AZ training

Presenting the plan to the class

The third day was a hands-on field exercise on a windy Caspian Sea beach outside of the city where nearly 50 participants practiced in the capture of birds and mammals, provided first responder aid to captured wildlife, and made decisions on transport to wildlife facilities.

Caspian seal capture AZ exercise

Exercise: Capturing a seal

This training provided everyone, myself included, with a better understanding of what an oiled wildlife response in Azerbaijan would be like. All in all, a very worthwhile endeavor. I hope the OWCN will have more opportunities to collaborate with International Bird Rescue and other organizations to share our collective experiences.  It is only in collaborating and sharing experiences that we can move forward along the never-ending road to best achievable care.


Cross Training – OWCN Style!

As we’ve reported here over the past couple years, the OWCN has a mandate to increase readiness for inland oiled wildlife response. We’ve been doing this through drills, mobile facility infrastructure development, and expansion of our network to include responders and centers that are experienced with inland species.

One of the great things about the OWCN is the strength of this expanding network. It not only improves our ability to respond, but gives everyone a chance to learn from each other. While I helped teach the Basic Responder Trainings over the past few months, it was great to see how much value the variety of responders brings to the trainings. I think we all walk away learning something new – either something about a species we’ve never worked with, or a different technique for working with an animal. Interactions like this led to our new Oilapalooza lab series.

This year, this new series will provide cross-training opportunities for everyone through a series of afternoon “101” laboratories. This includes: Pelagic Bird 101, Pinniped 101, Raptor 101, Reptile and Amphibian 101, Sea Otter 101, Sea Turtle 101, Terrestrial Mammal 101, and Terrestrial Bird (non-raptor) 101. We feel this will be a great opportunity for attendees to learn how to work with a new species. If you’re not going to Oilapalooza, think about other cross-training opportunities – maybe attend trainings at other centers, or just get to know rehabbers from other organizations in your area. You never know where the next spill will occur, but you can do your best to prepare for it!


The Descent is Always the Trickiest!

As Chris and Scott noted in the last two blogs, OWCN held the first Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit in Davis Oct 14 & 15. Although no one really knew what would happen, everyone showed up ready to participate, share their opinions about the the strengths and weaknesses of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, and brainstorm and propose ideas on how we can improve it. We discussed how to make activation of the wildlife facilities used in an oil spill response smoother, make responses greener, clarify use of protocols, provide better first response, build our skills for inland species, and untangle the web that is chain of custody. chain-of-custody-summit-10-16img_0835

It was a day that truly reflected the founding vision of OWCN as a group of energetic, dedicated, and creative organizations and the individuals that make up those groups. It was a meeting of people who are leaders – in their thoughts, their organizations, their communities, and their actions.

But the true measure of the success of the Summit will not be clear for months. The true danger of climbing a summit, after all, is often on the descent, when you are taking pride in your accomplishment and not focused on making it home safely.


Conquering the summit will not be finished until the conceptualized products our discussions are complete, after many hours of toil by the members of each workgroup. However, we have full confidence that success will occur, based on two primary things: because I know the strong dedication and high work ethic of nearly every person involved, and because I know the history of oiled wildlife response and wildlife rehabilitation here in the Golden State.  As someone born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, it sometimes pains me to admit that California holds a very unique position within the profession and community of oil spill response. It is a leader and has been since before some of us were putting gas at 25 cents a gallon into our cars.  One reason is because the oil industry generates a huge amount of money by extraction, transport, and refining and selling petroleum products here. Another is because of the depth and breadth of the natural wonders in California and the passion that they elicit in people to protect and defend them. That combination has lead to a state that literally puts it money where its mouth (and its heart) is.

And this fact is not just because of money generated by taxes on oil. Long before the Exxon Valdez and American Trader oil spills that sparked the legislation that would require oiled wildlife response as part of the clean up, the public and the wildlife rehabilitation community in California were doing their best to rescue and rehabilitate oiled wildlife as well as other injured and orphaned wildlife that were found every day of the year. Organizations like Lindsay Wildlife Museum, Monterey SPCA, Peninsula Humane Society, and of course International Bird Rescue Research Center all were caring for oiled wildlife during the 70’s and 80’s. If California was not the birth place of wildlife rehabilitation and oiled wildlife response, it was surely the nursery where it grew from diapers to overalls, scrubs, and lab coats. Events like this year’s OWCN Oiled Wildlife Planning Summit, past year’s Oilapaloozas and the just concluded Symposium of California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators (which was held last weekend in Fresno) prove the strong belief in environmental responsibility and stewardship and willingness of divergent people coming together to strengthen and improve that stewardship.  These kinds of events never fail to energize and inspire as well as remind me how thankful I am to have the opportunity to learn from and work with all of you who are so dedicated to mitigating our impacts and making the world a better place for humans and non-humans living in this state and on this planet. I am confident you will all make sure we remain leaders in our field. Stay tuned for the progress reports over the coming year.