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.


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.


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


The Great North

For this week’s blog, I’d like to familiarize our members a bit with another of our California regions that some may not be very familiar with, Region 1, the “Northern” region.  As you may recall from a previous blog, 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

The Northern region extends from the Oregon border to the southern edges of Mendocino, Tehama and Lassen counties.  There are many beautiful areas in this region to visit, such as Lassen Volcanic National Park, great Redwood forests, the Mount Shasta area and the rugged northern coastline.  As for OWCN, like Region 6, it is a high wilderness area with low human populations and large inland species diversity.  

There are 5 Member Organizations in this region: 

  • Northcoast Marine Mammal Center in Crescent City
  • Humboldt State University in Arcata
  • Institute for Wildlife Studies also in Arcata
  • Bird Ally X which is a couple miles south of Arcata
  • Shasta Wildlife Rescue and Education in Anderson

I thought it would be also be nice to cover a few terms as they relate to species just in case some people are not as familiar with them:

  • Endemic:  A species native to only that restricted area
  • Indigenous:  Species native to that area but may also be native elsewhere
  • Extirpated:  Species no longer present in that restricted area but still present elsewhere
  • Extinct:  Species no longer present anywhere

Because Region 1 tends to be more wilderness with higher rainfall, there is a more abundance of wildlife, particularly amphibians which often require more moisture-dependent habitats.  I’m very happy to provide you with a few brief but interesting profiles of native California species found only (or predominantly) in this region:

Southern Torrent Salamander (Rhyacotriton variegatus)

This salamander is a CDFW Species of Special Concern that inhabits the humid coastal areas from Point Arena in southern Mendocino County northward into Oregon.  Conservation is particularly important for this species because it can take up to 5 years for it to become sexually mature.

This species has very small lungs, instead relying more on its skin to obtain oxygen, thus depending on moisture to prevent it from drying.  Primarily aquatic, it is usually found in areas of shallow, cold, clear, well-shaded streams, waterfalls and seepages in old-growth forests.  It is active at temperatures between 41 – 50F and is extremely moisture dependent.  If weather or moisture become unfavorable, this small amphibian will shelter itself by burrowing under the stream bed substrate.

Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)

This apex predator always holds a special interest to me because it had been extirpated from California in the 1920’s but is slowly making its way back via Oregon migrations.  Although no longer a Federally Endangered Species, it is still State Endangered in California.  It has a very restricted range to the conifer forests of Lassen and Plumas Counties where there is adequate deer and elk for food and persistent water sources, while also having a low human presence.  

While there had previously also been a Shasta Pack, the only current pack is the Lassen Pack. However, the young male, “OR-93” recently made a trek of over 600 miles from Oregon’s Mt Hood area all the way south past Lake Tahoe and into Mono County! 

Humboldt Marten (Martes caurina humboldtensis)

This mustelid is a State Endangered and CDFW Species of Special Concern that inhabits old-growth conifer forests of northern Humboldt, Del Norte, and western Siskiyou counties and into Oregon.  It had been thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the Six Rivers National Forest of Siskiyou County about 25 years ago.  Currently, there are estimated to be less than 500 remaining in the wild

Although it is active year-round, the Humboldt Marten adapts its activity level depending on those of its small mammal prey, being active during the day during summer and then active at night during winter. 

Point Arena mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa nigra)  

Don’t confuse this rodent with the North American Beaver you may be more familiar with.  A “Mountain Beaver” can be 1/20th the size of the more well-known American Beaver.  It is also not aquatic although it does require moist habitats and water.  Actually, a mountain beaver’s kidneys cannot effectively concentrate urine so it must always have water available to drink.

Listed as Federally Endangered and a CDFW Species of Special Concern, the Point Arena mountain beaver is endemic to Point Arena in Mendocino County.  Because of its need for water, it is always found near rivers or streams.  It is active year-round, nocturnal and also territorial, however does not venture far from its burrow.

White-footed vole (Arborimus albipes

The last species profile for this blog is the White-footed vole.  This small rodent is found in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties and northward into Oregon.  It is listed as a Species of Special Concern by CDFW.

It inhabits coniferous and deciduous forests, usually found along smaller clear streams.  

This small mammal is mostly nocturnal and active year-round and while it builds its nests on the ground among logs and brush, it usually does its foraging in the trees!

Just this past weekend I took a short trip up to Oregon.  And while I did not see any of the animals mentioned during my stops, I did think of them and kept being on the lookout!


Building Capacity: Update from the OWCN Facilities Team

Tim and I, like I’m sure many of you, welcome 2021. As such, we wanted to take a minute to highlight a few of the projects that we hope to take on this year.


COVID hasn’t stopped us but it sure has slowed us down. Here at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, we are required to test negative for COVID-19 once a week and satisfy a health survey each day that we plan on working on campus. 

As you can imagine, keeping all of our equipment ready for response and completing many of our projects can’t be done from behind our home desk or via ZOOM. And having to physically distance as well as minimize contact with each other pushes us to prioritize tasks and rethink how we do things, at least for now. We must prioritize and review risks in order to move forward. We are constantly in phone or video contact with each other and kicking around ideas. If nothing else, these challenges have pushed us to think outside the box and optimize the way we regularly do things!

The OWCN Equipment Parade During Pre-COVID Times

Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital 2 (MASH2)

You all are probably familiar with our MASH (our 20 foot stabilization trailer that we have been using since 2010). What you may not know is that we are adding to the MASH family by finalizing the plans for our new MASH 2 so we can proceed with construction. After review and consultation with our new Field Veterinarian, Duane Tom, we have decided to change a few things that we feel will better serve our goals. We are changing the size and placement of our sink, providing a larger wet workspace that is important for function at the front (tongue end) of the trailer. This will also keep most of the plumbing in one area. Unfortunately this will eliminate a much needed and desired workspace that would be used for response documentation and planning. To adjust for this and provide a comparable working space we’ve designed the drop down exam table at the end of the trailer so that it also adjusts to a good working height that can accommodate travel chairs. This allows us not to give up any valuable working space and equipment storage.

San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC) Expansion

We are in the process of expanding our footprint at the SFBOWCEC. We will be placing a much needed new 36’ x 60’ modular building on the connected undeveloped lot. The building offers a large conference/training room, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen and 1 office.  We will also be constructing a 40’ x 60’ steel garage building on the lot to be used for equipment storage and much needed workspace.

Tim is in the process of securing all the required permits from Solano County so we can finally break ground on the job. We hope to have the bulk of the project ready for use summer 2021.

A new space at SFBOWCEC

Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network (SBWCN) Breaks Ground 

One of our Member Organizations, the SBWCN, has very recently broken ground on their new Wildlife Hospital! The new hospital has a clinic, offices, spill response supply storage area and oiled animal wash and drying areas. SBWCN expects completion in about a year.  It’s very exciting! Congratulations SBWCN!

We wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year!

Tim and Wendy

Transitions and Changes

Mike and Curt Enjoying the English Seaside

No, this is not a blog post about auto-tinting eyeglasses (though those are AMAZING). Nor is it an in-depth conversation about grammatically compelling writing styles. Or the lyrics to the amazing David Bowie song. This is an update to the greater OWCN community on some significant changes to the Management Team that have occurred recently, and will be coming up very soon. For those 115+ of you who signed into the OWCN Town Hall yesterday, you have a bit of a sneak preview of this info, but for everyone else, I wanted to share.

Katie Leasure

As everyone is likely aware, Lavonne Hull, our Admin Coordinator extraordinaire, retired earlier this summer after 20 dedicated years helping the OWCN through challenging logistical problems both during and between spills. At the same time, Pam Roualdes, our crack Admin backup, got an amazing job opportunity with UC Davis Health in Sacramento literally across the street from her house! While initially worrisome/panic-inducing to me, Katie Leasure (who previously was working in another One Health Institute program) stepped in masterfully and has really embraced the challenges of the role. We wish the best to Lavonne and Pam, and welcome Katie to the team!

Curt Enjoying a Namesake Beverage

Curt Enjoying a Namesake Beverage

Speaking of retirements, we have another upcoming one to announce. Curt Clumpner, our Deputy Director of Care Operations, has decided to take a well-earned step down from his 5+ years in that role this Fall. I have had the pleasure and honor of working with Curt since the late 1990’s in many different roles, countries, and environments, and have always been amazed at his dedication to animal welfare and his continual search for basic truths (the “whys” behind what we all do). While some can be challenged by this at times, I have always greatly appreciated his inability to accept doing things “just because that is how we have always done it”.

I will say more on Curt as we get closer to his end date, but this is the perfect opportunity to let people know that, as of yesterday, we are recruiting for his successor in leading the Care Ops stream within the OWCN. This is a critical job ensuring that our Network maintains its continual readiness of facilities and rehabilitation personnel to spring into action to provide best achievable care to oiled animals anywhere in California. For anyone up for the challenge, I (or I am sure Curt) would be happy to talk to you about the opportunity. For more information (and how to apply), please click on this UCD HR link.

Dr. Jonna Mazet, OWCN Director, at the 1997 Stuyvesant Spill

One other change on which I have mixed emotions to report. As those of you who have been part of the OWCN for a LONG time, you will recall that Dr. Jonna Mazet was the founding Director of the Network. She, in combination with Dave Jessup, Jay Holcomb, and others took the concept of a cohesive network of rehabilitation organizations working cooperatively during spills from the drawing board into reality. I was fortunate to have been selected to take over for Jonna in 2003 when she moved to becoming the Director of the UCD Wildlife Health Center (under which the OWCN resides) and then the Executive Director of the UCD One Health Institute (the “parent” of the Wildlife Health Center, four other Centers of Excellence, and numerous other large-scale programs and projects). After 11 years at the helm of the OHI, Jonna has decided to return to being “normal” faculty and focus more on her research (and less on administration). As of 1 July 2020, I have been honored to have been selected as her replacement as OHI Executive Director.

So what does this mean for the OWCN? Well, in short, it means I will be phasing out as Director of the OWCN over time – beginning this year at 50% time. This, in combination with Curt’s pending retirement, has given the OWCN Management Team an opportunity to re-evaluate our existing structure and make some changes. First, as stated above, we will be refilling Curt’s position, but that role (as has the Field Ops lead role) has been shifted to being a “Senior Manager”. This is because we will also be hiring an Associate Director in the coming months who will gradually take over the daily administrative roles of running the Network (in combination with Curt and Kyra) from me. As this person will most likely be filling the role as Director moving forward after a few years, per our Memoranda of Understanding with OSPR, a minimum qualification for the position will be a veterinary degree. So, for those wildlife vets in our Network who have an interest in a leadership role, keep your eyes open!

The last change to the structure is to re-embed our Readiness staff within the Field and Care streams. Danene, Scott, and Tim have done an AMAZING job since that stream’s development to better organize and implement trainings, drills, personnel management, outreach, and other cross-stream activities. However, as the OWCN has developed and matured over the past several years, it has become clear that working WITHIN the Care and Field streams will actually make the management of those activities even more integrated and improve their depth. Huge thanks to the “Readiness Renegades” for all of their work, and actually moving readiness forward so well to allow this additional shift!

So, in closing, I think everyone can agree that the only constant in the OWCN is our constant change to try and improve how we work. Only through our continual “tweaking” of our systems can we improve and meet our mandate. On a personal note, I want to thank each and every one of you for your dedication to our shared wildlife, and your continued active involvement in OUR Network. To reiterate: I’m NOT going away – I’m far too stubborn for that. But I look forward to seeing how bringing new ideas and personnel into the OWCN will move us even farther forward!

– Mike

Refugio Beach Oil Spill Recap: 5 Year Status Update

A little over 5 years ago on May 19th, 2015, an underground pipeline running parallel to Highway 101 ruptured near Refugio State Beach (just north of Santa Barbara). As a result, 123,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled, 50,000 of which ran down a ravine under the freeway and entered the ocean.

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The Oiled Wildlife Care Network was activated and our responders sprung into action to rescue oiled wildlife in need of assistance.  As you can see in the summary table below, this was a significant wildlife response, especially considering the high number of marine mammal patients. Over 90 responders joined the effort from 21 different OWCN Member Organizations, logging over 1600+ hours!

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To summarize the large response operation, lessons learned and heroic efforts of many, the OWCN created a Refugio Incident Report, which you can view here. This document summarizes our responder hotwash hosted at UC Davis after the incident in 2015. In reviewing such documents years later, it is always reassuring to see that many of the challenges listed have been addressed operationally. This ensures that we learn and improve from every response, maintaining our ability to provide the best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife.

And while the focus of OWCN is to provide top notch oiled wildlife response operations from capture to release, there is another aspect of our efforts that does not come to fruition immediately.  The wildlife data we collect, including the summary of both live and dead oiled wildlife, all factor into the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, led by California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW OSPR). Want to learn more about the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process?  Click here.

We are excited to share that just two weeks ago, the draft restoration and assessment plan for the Refugio Oil Spill was presented to the public. You can view the May 13th presentations and FAQs on the CDFW OSPR website here:

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Thank you to all our OWCN responders, CDFW OSPR and everyone involved in responding to this incident.  While we will never forget, we were able to grow from this response and apply lessons learned toward our new and improved operations of present day.

The OWCN Management Team



OWCN Town Hall Recap & Revised Training Dates

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Small sample of our amazing responders who graciously shared their video so we could see their smiling faces!

Thank you to everyone who joined us live last week for our very first OWCN Town Hall: COVID-19, Recent Activities, and Operational Updates.  We were thrilled to see over 130 responders gather virtually to listen to a global update (thank you Jonna Mazet!), hear a few OWCN specific operational updates, share lessons learned from our most recent response, meet our newest staff member and ask some excellent questions. You are the Network, and we miss you!


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Snapshot of the agenda

If you are an OWCN responder and were unable to join the fun, have no fear, as we have posted PDFs of each presentation, along with a recording of the meeting (available via the responder database, listed under the opportunities tab). If you have any issues finding it, just shoot us an email at owcn@ucdavis.edu.

Since we had so much fun, we are already in the early phases of planning another OWCN Town Hall (version 2.0), likely coming your way in June.  But in the mean time, please continue all your efforts to curb the spread of this pandemic, and know that the Oiled Wildlife Care Network remains ready to respond (albeit with some operational modifications).

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Note the NEW dates for some of our training courses!

PS. We have just posted our revised 2020 OWCN Training Calendar to the responder database, so don’t forget to check that out as well! A direct email to all responders with this information, plus some additional training course safety protocols, will hit your inbox soon. We hope to see some of you, from at least 6ft away wearing a mask, later this fall!

And if you are not currently an active OWCN responder but wish to learn more about how to become one, please send us an email at owcn@ucdavis.edu.

-The OWCN Management Team

Enhancing Conservation and Sustainability in our Own Practices

Guest Blog Author: Adam Ratner, Associate Director of Conservation Education, The Marine Mammal Center

The ocean’s health is at risk. Impacts from human activity—such as overfishing, plastic use and rising ocean temperatures—threaten marine ecosystems vital to our ocean’s health and our health. As a critical first responder to these threats, The Marine Mammal Center is leading the field in ocean conservation through marine mammal rescue, veterinary science and education. With our work and research going back 45 years, it is clear that marine mammal health, ocean health and human health are linked. The work of the Center advances medical knowledge and understanding about these links to inform conservation policy, inspire consumer and corporate behavior change and protect our future. The Center is committed to being an advocate and champion for ocean health—a voice for the patients it cares for—and to inspiring a sea of change to protect the ocean’s future.

In addition to providing critical guidance to partners and communities around how they can take action in their own lives, it is also crucial that the Center do its part to role model positive environmental behaviors and increase accessibility to the sustainable choices for its staff, volunteers and visitors.  As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world”, and our dedicated team of 90 staff and over 1,400 volunteers are working to address climate change and ocean trash in our own work and inspire others to join the growing community of stewards around the globe.

Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing marine mammals and people alike.  From rising sea levels shrinking critical breeding beaches for elephant seals and endangered Hawaiian monk seals, to warming water temperatures shifting prey resources for sea lions and fur seals, climate change is an issue impacting marine mammals today. The Center is working to reduce its own carbon footprint and serve as a role model for others to do the same.  From E/V charging stations and carpool parking, the Center is incentivizing the sustainable choices, providing charging at no cost to staff and volunteers, while adding to the growing community of charging ports available to the public and alleviating the range anxiety that exists around electrical vehicles.  Through the use of onsite solar panels, the Center not only drastically reduces its carbon footprint, but reinforces that homes and businesses are switching to solar in growing numbers, establishing a new, sustainable social norm around energy choices.  We are also talking about climate change with our visitors and partners, leading numerous efforts at a regional, national and international level, such as the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI) and Bay Area Climate Literacy Impact Collaborative (BayCLIC) to build capacity around the proven communication strategies for engaging communities around climate science and solutions.  For more information, read about the Center’s work as a case study in a new publication through Cornell University Press at: Communicating Climate Change: A Guide for Educators, and see our work and messaging in animation form through a collaboration with the California College of the Arts and a Pixar animator: A Word with Dr. Whizzlepuff: Climate Change.

TMMC animated

Students at the California College of the Arts, under the direction of The Marine Mammal Center and a Pixar Animator, developed an animated video highlighting the science of climate change and how we can take actions to protect the ocean

Another major issue facing our ocean and environment is ocean trash.  Trash can prove deadly in various ways for marine mammals, ranging from entanglement in discarded fishing gear and packing straps to accidentally misidentifying and ingesting of trash like plastic bags and balloons. While our rescue, rehabilitation and release work can provide a second chance at life for many of these unfortunate victims (such as Snaggle the Guadalupe fur seal or a humpback whale in Eureka, CA), we strive to address the issue of ocean trash and plastic pollution before it can get into the ocean environment in the first place.  As a founding member of the Trash Free Seas Alliance, the Center works with industry, science and conservation leaders to identify cross-sector solutions that drive action and foster innovation at a global scale.  Closer to home, at the main hospital in Sausalito, CA and throughout our California response range, volunteers and staff are proud participants in the RightCycle program by Kimberley Clark to use recyclable nitrile gloves for animal care practices.  While hygiene and best practices of personal protective equipment are paramount, we do not need to trade off our health with sustainability. By using these recyclable gloves rather than single use disposables, the Center is able to divert over 975 pounds of glove waste from landfills each year with the recycled gloves being used to create eco-friendly durable goods, like flower pots and patio furniture. For more information and to get involved in the RightCycle Program, visit: https://www.kcprofessional.com/umbraco/rightcycle.html.

TMMC nitrile

Volunteers at The Marine Mammal Center provide food to a malnourished Guadalupe fur seal at the hospital.  Volunteers use nitrile gloves as personal protective equipment that can be recycled and turned into ecofriendly products through the RightCycle program

The Center is dedicated to taking action to support a network of scientists and concerned citizens around the world to protect our shared environment for future generations.  For more information on our work and to join the growing community of community members and organizations taking action on climate change and ocean trash, visit our website at www.MarineMammalCenter.org and connect with us at edu@tmmc.org to learn more.

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