Jam-Packed Week in the World of Wildlife!

Hello all-

Wow!  What a busy week for wildlife issues and events – some good and some not so much. To keep this blog post at Kaiti-approved length (for those of you who are old like me and remember our former Volunteer Coordinator-turned-ecolawyer), here are the highlights:


Deepwater Horizon Spill (Courtesy Wikipedia)

Apr 20th = 3rd year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Spill. It’s hard to believe that it has been three years since that event rocked the oil spill world. Efforts are still underway to understand the impacts to the Gulf of Mexico from this blowout, with some info just now being released on marine mammal issues (see below). On the readiness side, the OWCN is finalizing a first draft of new and expanded national Oiled Marine Mammal Guidelines for NOAA-NMFS that will hopefully help address some of the key issues this spill raised.

Apr 21 = Oiled wildlife training for the International Association of Aquatic Animal Medicine (IAAAM) conference, hosted by The Marine Mammal Center. Christine, Nancy and I gave a day-long course to over 40 international marine animal professionals (mostly marine mammal vets, but several others of various ilk). The course was long on Powerpoints (cramming oil spill info on mammal and birds species over a short time period), but did include a great hands-on portion where TMMC allowed us to do “processing and intake” on four juvenile elephant seals. Overall, it was a great enthusiastic group – special thx to Frances Gulland and Tenaya Norris for organizing, as well as the entire TMMC vet/husbandry staff for pitching in during a very busy day!

Platform A Oil Spill (courtesy MSNBC)

Apr 22nd = Earth Day. In 1970, the concept of Earth Day was developed by Gaylord Nelson, US Senator from Wisconsin, after witnessing the effects of the 1969 Platform A blowout in Santa Barbara. He felt that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. Since that time, Earth Day has held a special place in our hearts within the oil spill community, as it led to the formation of the USEPA, the Clean Water Act, and the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA90). For more info on this event and its history, please visit http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement.

Apr 22nd – 25th = IAAAM Conference at Cavallo Point Lodge, Sausalito. This international meeting brought together more than 440 wildlife professionals from 25 countries to discuss issues and research findings pertinent to our marine species. The setting was gorgeous, the papers and posters fascinating, and the discussions and networking capabilities were thought-provoking and exciting. Especially relevant was presentations by Drs. Stephanie Venn-Watson and Cynthia Smith of the National Marine Mammal Foundation on health affects being seen in bottlenose dolphins from the coastal Louisiana region. Fascinating work that may assist us in better understanding the unusual mortality event that continues to rage there, and the possible effects that the DWH spill had on this species. More info on the conference can be found at http://www.iaaam.org.

Oiled little blue penguins (Courtesy Maritime NZ)

Oiled little blue penguins (Courtesy Maritime NZ)

Apr 25th = World Penguin Day. To round out a crazy busy week, we took a day to appreciate and better understand the amazing animals that are penguins. As we are all aware, penguins are key animals for us to describe the horrific effects of oil on animals (as the Treasure and Oliva oil spills) as well as the significantly positive results that can be seen with effective and professional rehabilitation (as SANCCOB/IBRRC/IFAW and Massey University have shown). Further, these birds have led to significant research on the long-term effects of oiling on marine species and given us great data to base arguments on the merits of intervention after oil spills. Lastly (and something I did not know before), they can tell us a lot about our own personality types! If you haven’t yet done so, go take the Pew Charitable Trust Penguin Personality Quiz (as well as learn about the conservation efforts for “your” species). BTW – Adelie penguins rule!

OK, so much for “highlights”! I hope everyone has a great restful and oil-free weekend!

– Mike


Wrapping up 2011 and looking forward to 2012

After months of travel to far corners of the world, the entire OWCN team is finally back together in one place.  For the first time recent memory, Mike has been spotted for more than 2 consecutive days here in at our offices in Davis!  We have missed him over the past two months as he jetted across the country and the world; after 3 weeks in New Zealand responding to the MV Rena Spill, he has given lectures and trainings in Martinique, Florida, Texas, and Southern California.  Becky returned from her deployment to New Zealand the day before Thanksgiving and Nancy returned yesterday from a vacation in Nepal with fabulous stories of adventure and humorous travel mishaps.  As the year comes to a close, we are taking advantage of this opportunity to complete ongoing projects and lining up new projects for the New Year.  Here’s a sample of what we’ve been working on…

We are pushing ahead with the custom designed UPS Trackpad database, which will take the place of all animal records during spill response.  This system will enable responders to enter all animal care data directly into handheld units from the moment the animal is collected on the beach to the moment it is released back into the wild.

Along the same lines, Becky and I have been looking at software solutions to track all the California oil spill response personnel data.  We’re looking into solutions that will enable each OWCN spill responder from our Network Member Organizations to create an online profile, maintain their current contact information, sign up for and view records of their trainings such as webinars and outreach events, list availability for shifts during spill response, and record volunteer hours.

Our first ever offering of an online 8hr HAZWOPER Refresher course took place in November.  This morning, Kyra reported that she is sending out certificates this week to 73 newly refreshed HAZWOPER-ers (HAZWOPER-ites?).  All 24hrHAZWOPER personnel are required to attend an annual refresher course, so mark your calendars: the course will be offered again in June and November of 2012.

Finally, look for our Annual Update in early 2012 for a report on all of this year’s activities.  Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday season and a happy New Year!


MV Rena Update: First Penguin Release!

Responders boxing up the penguins before heading to the release site.

Hello Everyone,

My last day in Tauranga has been an exciting one, as today was the first release of little blue penguins back out into the wild.  After a great deal of work by the cleaning crews to get the beaches ready, one location was deemed suitable to release penguins to.  The lucky penguins who originally came from that area (Rabbit Island), spent the week going through a sort of fitness test, to make sure they were healthy enough for release.  After a six hour swim and a waterproof check, they visited with the vets and received a health exam, and then had to jump up on the scale to make sure they had been eating enough fish and maintaining a healthy weight.  Those who passed their test were placed into animal carries and carried off to the beach this morning.

Preparing to release.

The release itself was a large event.  Hundreds of people showed up, including many locals, several school groups and politicians, and many of the people involved with the Rena spill on various levels.  Everyone clapped for the penguins as they entered the release location on the beach, and the boxes were placed in a semi-circle around the waterline to prepare for the release.

Little blue penguins heading home.

A beautiful native prayer ceremony was held, and at its conclusion all of the boxes were opened at the same time.  Most of the penguins took right to the water and began swimming directly for their home on Rabbit Island, and after a few minutes all that was left were small prints in the sand leading to the water.  Truly a great day for the penguins and the folks that have worked so hard to send them back to the wild.

Prints from the penguins heading home at last.

I would like to give a big thank you to the whole crew that I worked with these past few weeks, especially the Massey University team for inviting me to come.  I have learned so much while I was here, and I hope that I helped you all along the way.  Also, thanks to the International Bird Rescue staff that was here, it was wonderful to see friendly, familiar faces in the crowd.

Some of the response crew after the release.

To everyone back in the U.S., have a wonderful and safe holiday weekend, and I will see you all soon!  And to view some videos of the penguins, check out our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/OiledWildlifeCareNetwork


Rena Spill – Update 11/11/11!!!

Hi Everyone,

Because sometime you eat too many fish...

Just a quick spill update for 11/11/11 (well, actually it’s 11/12/11 here, but….).  I’ve been hard at work the past few days.  My life has become wake up, feed penguins, schedule the personnel, feed penguins, sleep, repeat.  Surprisingly, I have yet to grow tired of the little blue penguins, even considering a penguin flung fish juice in my face this morning,I have cuts all over my hands, and I can’t scrub the fish smell off of my skin.  It is amazing the amount of work that goes into caring for these little guys.  Feeding alone takes 6 hours out of the day (not including prepping the fish), and cleaning is a world in it’s own.  Wendy Massey has been leading up the cleaning crews for the aviaries (pronounced “avery” here, like the boys name), which consists of 5 people spending the entire day cleaning.  With the changes being made to ready the penguins for their eventual release, that number will go up to 6.

Wendy Massey and her cleaning crew, helping to herd penguins for their afternoon feeding.

The exciting news is we heard today that they have made a good deal of progress getting oil off of the ship, and they will hopefully finish up soon.  Much planning is now going into how best to prepare the penguins for release and making sure everything is all set for them to go.  Speaking of going, I need to get going to help with the afternoon feeding.  Hoping all is well with the network members back home, and don’t forget, just because I’m gone, doesn’t mean that you guys can skip out on watching recorded webinars!!!


M/V Rena Spill Update

Hello Everyone,

Some of the team from the Auckland Zoo. They are responsible for caring for the endangered dotterels.

Day 2 for me working at the wildlife center here in Tauranga. So far everything has been great; the facility is well organized, everyone knows what they’re doing, and the people are fantastic. My first day here, I spent the morning working with the endangered dotterels (see Kyra’s post on November 14th for more info on them). There is a rotating team from the Auckland Zoo that is here to take care of them. The recovering endangered-species-breeder in me really appreciated the amount of work that is going into taking care of these birds to preemptively protect them from oil, and the team is doing a fantastic job. These birds are a very shy species, so additionally, the team has to take extra efforts to keep their stress levels down.

Pauline demonstrating how to feed penguins.

In the afternoon of my first day, I was introduced to everyone’s favorite, the little blue penguin. As I used every ounce of my self control to not scoop up penguins and cuddle them (they really don’t like that, nor is it good for them), Pauline, the personnel manager here at the facility, gave a demonstration in penguin feeding. With several hundred of these birds at the facility, penguin feeding is probably the most time consuming activity each day.

I was also able to squeeze in a quick tour of the facility, and had a chance to see how Pauline manages the volunteers here. I’ve already learned a few things that I think will help with managing volunteers, should we have a spill in California, and am eager to learn more.

Day 2 here has me spending day feeding penguins again, and I have to say, I’m already getting really good at picking fish scales out of my hair. I’m hoping this afternoon to also spend some time stopping in at each area of the facility, just to learn about the flow, and to talk more with Pauline about how she keeps the communication flowing about personnel needs in each section.

More to come soon….


M/V Rena Spill: Day 19 (MZ Day 10)

Kia ora everyone!

Things here in Tauranga are going very well since I posted last, though there is never enough hours in the day to get everything done. I never realized how much not having internet access in my hotel room cuts back on my capacity to blog, but it’s hard to do with filleted salmon smolts in one hand and a ravenous oiled little blue penguin in the other…

Courtesy Cameron Spencer / Getty Images

On to news. Probably the most notable activity here in the past five days (aside from the ongoing cleanup and wildlife effort) has been our host country’s rabid following of the Rugby World Cup finals (held in Auckland), where the All Blacks of NZ met and defeated France. Curt Clumpner of Bird Rescue has a great descriptor of the evenings activities his blog (posted here), but the lead up to the final has been almost as amazing. Everywhere you went were banners on vehicles, supporting ads in storefronts (yes, they made me take a day off on Saturday so I was able to do a bit of a walkabout), and full-page newspaper photos. Cheers to the All Blacks and all the kiwis for their victory!

M/V Rena Command Centre

Since I have written last, I have been back and forth a bit both at the facility as well as the ICC (Command Centre), filling in where needed and trying to remain useful. For background (and to add local color, or colour here), the ICC is being housed in a large, unused supermarket in downtown Tauranga – odd to be walking about with “fresh chicken” signs still on the walls and pylons set up to keep responders from walking into parts of the floor where freezers used to be kept. All the different sections are sitting in different groups just like all ICCs I have been involved with, however people are much more polite and there isn’t the same level of frantic tension that I have come to expect. In fact, last night I had drinks, and this evening dinner, with the NOSC (National Oil Spill Coordinator) for Maritime New Zealand – a great person who also spent a month at Deepwater Horizon and we were able to compare our experiences there with this unfolding response. The biggest downside I can see is the definite lack of coffee availability onsite – just Nescafe inside and a small espresso cart outside (and in writing this maybe the lower caffeine availability leads to a calmer response….hmmmm).

At the ICC, our Wildlife table is the largest one in the facility, with between 14-16 people all working on the field and facility planning and management for the response. We also have additional staff at the facility doing logistics and operational deployments for field teams, as well as the HR, logistics and media issues at for the facility. The wildlife team are a great group of people – a combination of Massey University, Department of Conservation, and responder staff working together to manage the more than 140 people currently responding for wildlife in field and facility ops. I’ve been fortunate to work side-by-side with Kerri Morgan and Helen McConnell of Massey and Barbara of Bird Rescue, and have been involved with developing plans for long-term housing for penguins (so they can be kept until the risk of re-oiling is past), capture criteria for fur seals, helping to find and acquire appropriate fish for post-wash care (fish that is small enough to allow individual feeding yet has a low enough oil content to not cause fouling of the pools), updating the Incident Action Plan detailing the field operational plan for the Bay of Plenty, and a host of other planning activities. Good learning experience and good work being done.

Intake at the M/V Rena Wildlife Centre

Alternately, I have also been busy working into the animal care side at the facility, working in concert with the Massey and Bird Rescue staff as well as the local responders and “vollies” – primarily in oiled bird holding. As I said previously, the facility is composed primarily of marquees which hold birds that are not being left in pools. Most of these marquees have had ducted heating added to manage heat through masterful engineering from Bill Dwyer and his staff, allowing oiled birds to be kept at adequate temperatures. Much of our activities in this area revolve around getting the birds strong enough to withstand wash and making sure they are approved in a rapid manner to move on to cleaning. This has been somewhat of a challenge due to initial weight loss causing us to move from the typical activity of feeding slurry mixtures via stomach tube to force-feeding fish – a more time-intensive and messy proposition due to larger salmon smolts needing to be cut prior to feeding. However, the evidence of success is the birds themselves, and their weights have been coming up well and birds are definitely more fit entering wash, making it worth the results of salmon guts being flung into your face regularly.

As the numbers of oiled birds coming into the facility declines (which we hope is an ongoing trend, but are watching the daily report from the salvers on the ship carefully), we are seeing more and more birds who have been washed and are needing time being reintroduced into pools to regain waterproofing. Since I last wrote, that now encompasses a tremendous effort – seven pools, four tents and many people zipping back and forth from pool to pen to pool to allow the more than 200 clean little blue penguins time to return to normal condition. Julie, Michelle and Dee of Bird Rescue and Bridey of Massey have done a heroic job getting them back into shape in less-than-ideal conditions. The plan is now to begin to move them into one of several 7 x 9 m penguin enclosures (each of which has a pool and appropriate haul out areas) that will allow long-term holding in relatively low maintenance environments until the fate of the M/V Rena becomes more clear. Stay tuned on this effort…

Again, the ghost of volunteer coordinators past is reminding me that I am far too wordy for my own good so I will sign off for now. I’ll touch on other areas, including the field ops and dotterel holding/capture, in my next treatise.

– Mike

M/V Rena Spill: Day 14 (MZ Day 5)

Hello all and Kia Ora-

Sorry to be so delayed in writing, but it has been a busy five days. That and Internet access is limited to the facility and not my hotel – good for dealing with emails but poor for sitting down and updating everyone.

Just some background – I am in Tauranga (which I am just now learning how to say, much less spell) helping to support Massey University and Maritime New Zealand’s National Oiled Wildlife Response Team. In the early days of the spill, Kerri Morgan, Oiled Wildlife Response Coordinator of the NOWRT (and yes, those of you who know me knew an acronym was coming from that) contacted many of the international oiled wildlife response organizations, including the OWCN and International Bird Rescue, to determine interest and capacity to assist. In the following days, Massey asked OWCN and Bird Rescue for three people to assist – one to help at the ICC (the command center for the response), one to help establish the facility, and one to deal with marine mammal issues if (and when) they should arise. I was tapped for the latter role, and was able to catch a plane soon after. At the same time, more oil was released and an additional five Bird Rescue staff were put on standby and eventually deployed.

Wash Trailer and Marquee at Rehabilitation Centre

On arrival here, I was expecting what is normally found in the early days of a large spill in many regions – far too much to do, far too little key equipment on the ground, and a beehive of activity that often isn’t entirely in a forward direction. What I found at the facility was an extremely organized (or as I am learning to spell it, organised), well planned and calm layout, with excellent equipment, trained personnel and a positive overall feel. Dr. Brett Gartrell, the academic lead for Massey’s Wildlife Health Centre (yes, I mention that they just HAVE to be different from UC Davis through their spelling), in cooperation with Curt Clumpner of Bird Rescue on the management side and Bill Dwyer of DwyerTech on the facility development side, had the facility, staff and responders working cohesively on the animals coming in, as well as planning for the further development of the facility to take in up to 500 oiled birds and 10 oiled fur seals.

Joining Curt and me at the center from the states was Michelle Bellizzi, Julie Skoglund, Susan Kaveggia and Dee Goodfriend of Bird Rescue, as well as Barbara Callahan of Bird Rescue at the ICC. Absolutely every single person here has been a joy to work with – the five veterinarians from Massey at the facility, the additional folks at the Command Centre, all of the paid field and facility staff , and the numerous “vollies” being slotted into the system. The New Zealand Department of Conservation (or DOC ) is leading the field collection efforts similar to how USFWS led bird collection efforts on Deepwater Horizon.

The facility itself is a bit different from what most folks in California are used to.  Massey, as part of their planning process, has pre-identified sites throughout New Zealand that can be set up for animal care facilities. the site in this region is on the grounds of a water treatment plant, providing a large source of fresh water in addition to available space. As to the specific components of the facility, wash and rinse capabilities are built into one of two sea container that DwyerTech had previously developed (gorgeous by the way), and they were dropped on-site, providing appropriate volumes of warm, soft water needed to wash the birds and seals.  Most of the rest of the facility is comprised of a series of tents (or marquees here) which are joined in series, with external heating units vented into them. Equipment was pre-staged in the Massey containers and trailers, and was quickly mobilized throughout the facility.

Birds are being housed initially in 1 meter square plastic heavy-duty fruit crates with net bottoms built within. Effective but heavy. The OWCN, on request, shipped over 20 soft-sided pens to help in the effort, and those are currently being assembled to help at the pools. The pools are standard 4.5 m round above-ground pools similar to the KD pools we use there. A dry run for seals was built in a quiet part of the facility, providing good haul-out space plus away from most of the traffic on site. The last part of the facility that has been being built is a series of individual aviaries to house NZ Dotterels, a highly endangered shorebird that Kyra blogged on previously. The trick on these birds is that, as it is the breeding season, each must be kept separate and, as they are endangered plus highly stress-prone, minimal staff have been involved in their care.

The protocols and practices here are fairly similar to what is used by most large professional oiled wildlife rehabilitation programs, with an initial intake and blood sampling, a period of rest with nutritive and fluid tubings, followed by cleaning then gradual movements into pools to regain waterproofing. Again, the folks here are top-notch, providing excellent care to the animals collected.

On to those animals. When I arrived, five New Zealand fur seals had been collected alive during response efforts, however one oiled juvenile unfortunately died in care. Of the four remaining, none appeared to be oiled and had other medical issues that had to be addressed.  Fortunately, two days ago, we were able to successfully release three of these seals on the Western side of the North Island, thereby successfully keeping them away from the slick.

Restraining an Unoiled Fur Seal

In working the seal issues here, I have again been working with great people – Dr. Laura Boren of DOC as the local seal lead, several wonderful husbandry folks from both the Aukland Zoo and Marineland of NZ, and DOC field personnel that are acting as “fast action teams” should seals be reported as oiled. Laura and I quickly worked together to provide better guidance on what to look for to determine whether a seal was oiled or not, compiled information from reconnaissance (or recce here – I feel so multilingual!) tours to determine high risk areas, developed a decision matrix to assess when (and if) seals were to be collected if observed in the oiled area, and compiled a roster of available personnel.

As those who know me know, sitting still is not my strong suit.  Therefore, I jumped into the general bird care where I was needed – rinsing, tubing, med checks, etc.  I have to admit, little blue penguins are rapidly climbing up my list of favorite species. However, as this blog post is now over 1,100 words, I have a little voice vaguely similar to Kaiti’s ringing in my ear saying “Wrap it up!”. So I will hold more discussions on the bird care to my next post.

I will try and post every other day if I can find Internet. Take care, try not to spill oil California, and E noho rā.

– Mike

Update on Rena Oil Spill

As I write this blog, Dr. Mike Ziccardi is probably just arriving in New Zealand to assist with the wildlife response of this current oil spill.  Once Dr. Ziccardi is “settled in”, I am sure he will fill us in with some of the news from this spill.  In the meantime, however, it has been a challenge for all of us back in Davis to find the most up to date and accurate information on this spill.  After reviewing several sites (including Massey University, National Public Radio, and the Irish Times), I have pieced together what I think is some of the latest information.  I hesitate to recommend a single website for information, but if pressed I would suggest checking the Massey University website (http://www.massey.ac.nz/), since some of the response staff are from that university, and they seem to keep it fairly current.

The latest information that I have gathered is the following (as of Oct. 14, 1400hrs Pacific Coast time):

Approximately 350 tons of oil have spilled into the water, and about 70 containers have fallen off the Rena and are now floating in the water or washed up on shore with debris from the containers scattering across beaches and water. The concern now is that the large crack in the Rena appears to be extensive, and may lead to a complete break of the ship at any moment, further spilling fuel oil and diesel into the water.  The Rena has 220 tons of diesel, and 1,870 tons of fuel oil on board.  There are plans underway to try to pump the oil off the ship before it breaks apart, but this operation would take at least 14 hrs and be very dangerous. Tugs may be used to stabilize the stern of the Rena while oil is removed, but this operation is still being considered at this point.  Several salvage vessels are in the area collecting floating debris from the containers that have fallen overboard. In the meantime, oil has come ashore along several beaches and is expected to enter Tauranga harbor and coat more beaches in the coming days.

As for the wildlife, around 1,000 birds have been collected dead, and 130 have been recovered alive and transferred to the Oiled Wildlife Response Unit in Mount Mauganui. In addition, 5 oiled seals have been recovered, and there has been pre-emptive capture of 5 individuals of the New Zealand Dotterel (Charadrius obscurus). It is estimated that there are only 1,500 individuals of the Dotterel, which is a small shorebird that nests on beaches along some of the impacted shoreline. “Pre-emptive capture” means capture of wildlife before they become oiled. Because of the highly endangered nature of the New Zealand Dotterel, it was decided to try to capture some of these individuals to help prevent them from becoming oiled.

Check back for updates on this spill.


New Zealand Dotterel. Wikipedia Photo.

MV Rena Spill in New Zealand

The container ship Rena. Last night it was listing at 18deg. Photo / Maritime New Zealand

Hello Everyone, Today we are blogging about the incident currently unfolding off the coast of New Zealand. On October 5, 2011, the MV Rena struck the Astrolabe reef off of the coast of New Zealand, near Tauranga. The MV Rena was carrying around 1700 tonnes of fuel oil (equal to over 500,000 gallons), as well as containers hauling around 200 tonnes of diesel fuel.  Initially around 30 tonnes of fuel oil spilled into the water, however, by yesterday, reports stated that 350 tonnes have now spilled. Progress in containing the spill and unloading the remaining oil has been hampered by bad weather, including large swells and strong winds, and the fact that the ship is leaning at an approximately 18-degree angle.

Fist-sized clumps of oil have washed ashore New Zealand beaches following the shipwreck of cargo boat Rena on Astrolabe Reef near Tauranga Harbour. AAP

A handout picture provided by Maritime New Zealand of oiled penguins are being treated at the wildlife rehabilitation facility set up at Tauranga, New Zealand, 07 October 2011. AAP

Because of the location, this oil spill in particular has the potential of causing widespread damage to this pristine environment. This area of New Zealand is home to large numbers of birds, including little blue penguins, cormorants, a variety of petrels, and endangered New Zealand dotterels.  Many marine mammals can also be found in this area, including New Zealand fur seals, bottlenose dolphins, orcas, and beaked whales. Reports state that several oiled little blue penguins and cormorants have been recovered and taken to wildlife facilities to be cleaned. Additionally, tar balls have begun washing up on the beaches.

Our colleagues at Massey University’s Wildlife Centre are currently helping to lead the wildlife response, and in the next few days the OWCN’s director, Dr. Michael Ziccardi, will head to New Zealand as well. Dr. Ziccardi will be assisting in marine mammal management.

Please check back in the next few days for more updates.

-Becky and Kyra