All About Grebes

For this week’s blog I decided to delve into the world of grebes, a species that I grew to love (and lose sleep over) during the Pipeline P00547 Response. Grebes were the most abundant, most vocal and most problematic patients, however they were also some of the most fun.

Although the most common species we worked with during the Pipeline P00547 Response were Western grebes, there are actually 22 different species within the genus Podiceps. They can range in size from 120 grams (Least grebe) to 1.7 kilograms (Great grebe), no pun(s) intended. Grebes are migratory and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. In California we have four species of grebes including the Eared grebe, Pied-billed grebe, Clark’s grebe and Western Grebe.

Grebes are aquatic diving birds who spend their entire lives on water (unless they are forced on land by something like…an oil spill). Nearly everything about their anatomy has evolved for life in/on water. They have large feet with broad lobes, shifted toward their hind end, all of which facilitate skilled and precise swimming and diving.  Unlike many other water birds, their wings are small and let’s just say, flying isn’t their strong suit. As such, they will dive to evade predators rather than fly away. Grebe beaks are long, sharp and pointy, perfect for impaling small crustaceans (also eyes…don’t forget your safety glasses!).

Another unique adaptation is their dense plumage with strong interlocking barbules and hooks. Anyone who has ever tried to part a grebe’s feathers in search of underlying skin knows what I mean. When their feathers are fully intact, grebes are completely waterproof, which allows them to maintain their temperature despite living in water. Grebes can even adjust the angles of their feathers to alter the amount of air trapped between their feathers, thus changing their buoyancy. In order to keep their feathers in tip top shape grebes regularly preen. They also swallow some of their discarded feathers (and even feed them to their young) to aid in digestion. Now when I say “some feathers” I actually mean a surprising number…think a cat hairball but sub in gooey feathers.

Western grebes preening at the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center.

These adaptations are GREAT for a grebe living in water, not so much for a grebe forced onto land. Why might a grebe be forced onto land? [cue drumroll] … OILING. Oil disrupts the waterproof barrier that is their feather structure. Water then seeps between their feathers and comes into contact with their skin. They then lose body heat and buoyancy VERY quickly. Imagine a wet suit with tears all over it. In order to preserve warmth, grebes will find their way to land.

Oiled grebe beached & preening

Once on land grebes can’t eat or drink – resulting in dehydration, loss of body condition and gastrointestinal issues. Due to the position of their legs, they have difficulty walking so they lay hunkered down in one position—resulting in keel sores and foot and hock lesions. And don’t forget they’re oiled and hypothermic (cold).

Dr. Jamie Sherman (me) performing an intake exam on an oiled grebe during the Pipeline P00547 response

By the time an oiled grebe finds its way to a primary care center, it already has at least one (if not all) of the above listed ailments. As the veterinarian my goal is not only to treat the existing problems but also to prevent new ones. Sounds simple, right? They gray hairs on my head would beg to differ. We can correct dehydration and loss of body condition with supplemental fluids and nutrition. Gastrointestinal issues are a constant battle due to the absence of a natural diet, stress, parasites, decrease in preening or clean feathers for consumption, absence of sea water, or any combination thereof. Because of their oiling status and thus need to be out of water temporarily, we house our grebe patients in “net bottom pens” (exactly what their name describes) where they stay through pre-wash care and the early stages of conditioning. Only once they are waterproof can they go back to living in water full time. We use keel cushions, booties and various treatments to fight the seemingly never-ending battle with keel, foot and hock lesions.

Despite their many ailments and complexities as patients, I’ve truly grown to appreciate their unique anatomies, personalities and even the (in)famous grebe scream. Click here (and turn up your volume) if you’d like to too!


It Takes a Village! (or a coordinated, pre-trained Network)

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is still currently activated and responding to the Pipeline P00547 Incident. We are on Day 13 of response, and our Wildlife Recovery, Field Stabilization and Care & Processing Groups continue to provide the absolute best achievable capture and care of all oil-affected wildlife. To view current wildlife numbers, please visit our website here.

While the spotlight often shines on our resilient wildlife patients, there is an army of wildlife champions behind the scenes providing some serious world class effort. To date, we have utilized more than 90 affiliated and pre-trained responders filling Incident Command System (ICS) response roles, ranging from volunteers all the way to Deputy Wildlife Branch Director. These responders are representing over 15 of our 44 OWCN Member Organizations, and making us all very proud! (click here to view all 44 OWCN Member Organizations)

In addition to our Network, we work in close collaboration with numerous federal and state agencies during an oil spill response regarding wildlife. We are in step from the beginning with our partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (CDFW-OSPR), as we are activated by this state agency from the very beginning and they usually fill the Wildlife Branch Director role as well as lead Wildlife Reconnaissance efforts (including manning the Hotline). We also are in close communications with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA-NMFS) in preparation for any potential oiled marine mammal or sea turtle patients. And we consult with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding our wildlife response plan for many threatened or endangered species potentially affected by the incident. And a special shout out for this incident to the CDFW Natural Resource Volunteer Program for providing us with personnel and a vehicle for wildlife transport!

As the OWCN Readiness Coordinator for Field Operations, I spend A LOT of my time attempting to prepare the Network for potential incidents just like this one. We recruit talented wildlife professionals, provide ample supplemental oil spill training, and conduct realistic, large scale drills. With all of this done in advance, our ability to respond quickly and efficiently is fine tuned. But even with all the preparation, when a call hits the hotline with the potential for significant wildlife impact, my heart skips a beat. Are the oiled wildlife facilities ready to fire up and begin receiving patients? Are the local 24hr HAZWOPER certified wildlife recovery responders able to head out into the field immediately on such short notice?

While the initial pace was intense, and yes, at some times a bit chaotic, all of my worries were answered with a resounding YES! We were ready to respond and remain ready to help any wildlife in need. So thank you OWCN responders for all your hard work over these past two weeks, and thank you in advance to those who will continue to contribute their time to get us to the finish line.

Each and every Responder should be proud of your own personal readiness, allowing you to quickly jump into action. Your Member Organizations are proud of your tireless efforts. And we, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network’s Management Team (on behalf of the entire Network), are extremely proud and thankful for your dedicated commitment to our wildlife.

Scott Buhl – OWCN

Pipeline P00547 Incident: More Reflections from the ICP

Hi All – A few thoughts on the first week of this response from my view. First off – OWCN is amazing, and the excellence and passion shown by everyone supporting this response has been obvious to all. Thank you! And thank you to all who stayed back and took on all the responsibilities of those who were deployed. The partnership of OSPR and OWCN staff is powerful. The two organizations are different in many ways, but share and embrace the same commitment to best achievable capture and care. We work hand-in-hand. In the ICP, the Wildlife team has candid conversations about strategy and staffing, and we have always been able to efficiently get to agreement. The Reconnaissance, Recovery, Field Stabilization, and Care and Processing Groups have similarly been solutions-focused and totally flexible to do what’s needed. 

I was first notified of an incident Saturday morning. My phone blew up with a flood of conversations by voice, email, and text; then total silence. From experience, that told me that something significant was happening and that everyone was either traveling or head-down focused on work, way too busy to talk anymore. I packed a bag just in case.

On Sunday morning when we arrived at the first ICP, there were about 35 of us crammed in a corner office and a break room. It was chaotic with so much to do and so little space to do it. I relocated a garbage can and recycling bin and secured a small table near the sink for Mike Z and I to get started. Response vessels had been deployed at first light, and our two amazing care facilities were gearing up. One week later, the response team was up to 1200 people. That’s a crazy fast expansion, and it was exactly what was needed. As the oil made its way south over the week, our Recovery Teams were covering 70 miles of shoreline; same for oil cleanup and SCAT; we needed a big team. 10,000 people have signed up to volunteer and a local restaurant, of their own volition, raised funds and cooked and delivered meals to the Field Stabilization facility staff.

Speaking of food…in the second ICP it was bad (not sure what the turkey-like substance was on the Thanksgiving plate). Vegetarians have been provided lots of options like taking the meat out of the hamburger and eating the bun and lettuce. However, the form and function of the ICP for spill response rapidly matured. All the branches and units got organized and started communicating with each other and their counterparts in the field. Hand-written signs popped up on all the walls sharing who was where. The Unified Command directed objectives. The Liaison and PIO/JIC spun up to address the overwhelming media, political, and public interest. As the Wildlife Branch Director, at least two hours a day was consumed in media and elected official responses; and with visits by the Governor, Lt. Governor, State and Federal Congressional representatives, and a myriad of local elected officials, sometimes the demand was twice that. I was so grateful to have super-star Mike Ziccardi there to do the heavy lifting with the VIPs.

Sam Christie, Care Strike Team Leader, with Fox 11 News

We’ve been working 14-hour days, generally from 6:30am to 8:30pm. After work, some people meet for a social hour downstairs in the hotel where we can unwind and smile for a while. Sitting with Jordan Stout (NOAA SSC) and Mike Z., we compare and (BS about) overlapping events since 1994 (my first response). At other tables I sit with folks experiencing their first major response. Some parts of the conversation are the same, we talk about compounding stress and exhaustion and how it slowly creeps in the mind and body. For the new and the old-timers, it’s not uncommon for tears to well up at some point. It’s intense work that we do.

Then I’m off to bed, certain that I can’t stay awake a moment longer, but when I close my eyes, my mind races with all the things I could be doing, that need to be done tomorrow, and wondering why am I sleeping when there are animals out there who need help. But ultimately exhaustion wins, on Wednesday morning I woke up with the lights on, fully dressed, on top of the bed; I must have sat down and fallen asleep in the same motion. 

Thank you to all of you in the OWCN family. You’re part of something very special and your efforts are meaningful and appreciated.

Here is a typical Wildlife Branch Organizational Chart from this past week

Greg McGowan – CDFW OSPR

Welcome to FROGTOWN. We hope you enjoy your stay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Baja California Tree Frog feasts on fruit flies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Sam

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

The Frogs of Toro Canyon Creek

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

Toro Canyon Creek

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

Baja California Treefrog

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

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

Baja California Treefrog variations

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

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

California Treefrog

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

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

California Treefrog

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

Observations from the Field

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


Trail Camera Trials and Tribulations

Trail cameras, or camera traps as they are often called, are used for many purposes in the scientific community. Biologists use them in a variety of ways including to aid in observing wildlife activity, wildlife behavior, nest predation, developing population estimates, and even identifying how wildlife use different habitat types. Trail cameras are often used recreationally as well. People use them for fun on their own properties to see what wildlife are nearby, what pest species are coming around their house, and what’s eating their garden plants. Additionally, they are often used as a scouting tool by many hunters.

These cameras allow us to see a whole other side of wildlife – their quirky personalities, sun baths, eating habits, sleeping habits, and sometimes even their predatory hunts! Moments we rarely get to see unless we are extremely lucky. I’ve used trail cameras quite a few times, both for professional and personal purposes. My favorite images are those that are a sequence of photos showing an animal walking into the frame, turning their head to look at the camera, stepping toward it, and then the next few images are either into the eye of the animal, up the nose of the animal, or a combination of the two as they explore the trail cameras. Animals can hear the shutter of the camera lens, and see the glow from the flash, so they get up close and personal to investigate. Others will try to play with them. I’ve even heard several stories of bears picking them up, knocking them down, batting them back and forth between their paws and then tossing them down a hill! However, not all species react in a curious manner. Some see it as a deterrent and skedaddle as fast as they can when they hear the click of the lens or see the flash.

Within the OWCN, our mission is to provide the best achievable capture and care of oil affected wildlife, and trail cameras can aid us in accomplishing this in several ways, especially during inland responses. First, many of the species we encounter are nocturnal, meaning they are primarily active at night. However, we are often not approved for night operations during the first few days of a response. Therefore, trail cameras can be our eyes on the ground and allow us to observe what species are in the area when we are not present. Seeing what species are roaming the hot zone while we’re away, allows us to be more prepared for the types of species-specific equipment we might need including traps, nets, housing, and transport necessities. In addition to knowing what species are present, we also need to know if those individuals have come in contact with the oil. Thus, I wanted to know if I could use the trail cameras to aid in identifying whether individuals seen in the photos were oiled or unoiled. Despite my previous experiences with trail cameras, I had never used them in such a context, and therefore, I decided to launch my own study to determine if 1) I could detect crude oil on a dark colored animal during the day (such as a skunk), 2) if I could detect crude oil on a dark colored animal at night (such as a skunk) 3) if I could detect diesel #2 on a light-colored animal during the day (such as a light grey rabbit) and 4) if I could detect diesel #2 on a light-colored animal at night (such as a light grey rabbit).

Due to Covid, I conducted this study in my backyard in Sacramento using a remote-control car, skunk and rabbit pelts, wire, crude oil, diesel #2, nitrile gloves, Tyvek, t-posts and two Bushnell trail cameras. I have not yet finished this study, but I found the initial results interesting and wanted to share them.

As stated in the questions above, I had originally decided to run the study during the day and at night. I ran transects perpendicular to the front of two cameras at a distance of 1m, 2m, 3m, 4m, 5m, 6m, 7m, and 8m from the cameras. As it turns out, it was very obvious during the day if they were oiled or not, and I ended up with tons of photos due to the large number of transects.  I realized that I could pare down my transects and still get a lot out of the data. Therefore, I reorganized the study so that there were only three transects at a distance of 2m, 4m, and 6m from the cameras, and that the studies would only be conducted at night.  I eliminated the 8m transect because the pelts were not outfitted with a heat source and since the trail cameras are triggered by a combination of heat and movement the pelts were unable to trigger the camera at the 8m distance. Below are some photos showing the study design.

Study Layout (Video)

So far, I have conducted one study during the day, and two studies at night. We will focus on the two nighttime studies for this blog, so let’s test your skills! To conduct this study, I used chicken wire to create a mold. Then I placed the pelt onto the mold and attached the pelt to the remote-control car with wire. I then drove the pelt along the transect in front of the cameras at the 2m, 4m, and 6m distances. I started with 0% oiled, then 25% oiled, then 50% oiled, then 75% oiled, and finally 100% oiled. Each transect was driven at the different oiling percentages. Below, are photos of unoiled and oiled skunk pelts (with crude oil), and unoiled and oiled rabbit pelts (with diesel #2, and crude oil). Can you guess which are oiled and which are not? I’ve posted an answer key at the bottom so you can check your answers. Feel free to leave a comment on this post and let us know how you did!






As you may have experienced with the photos above, it can be difficult to tell what is oiled and what is not when looking at still shot photos of wildlife. Check your guesses against the answer key below. Was it difficult to tell which ones were oiled at the 25% oiling? If so, imagine how difficult it would be to tell if the individual in the photo was oiled if they had less than 25% oiling! Thus, based on these few trials, I believe that using trail cameras during a spill response is critical for providing us information on what wildlife are active in the spill zone. However, I don’t think we can necessarily rely on them to determine whether an individual has been affected by oil. Especially if it is a light product on a light species, or a dark product on a dark species, and they are 4 meters or further from the camera lens. I plan to run a few more trials so see if the I get the same results! If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please email me at


Answer Key:

A) Unoiled

B) Unoiled

C) 50% oiled

D) 75% Oiled

E) 75% Oiled

F) 25% Oiled

G) 50% Oiled

H) Unoiled

I) 25% Oiled

J) 25% Oiled

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

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

What is your favorite land species? Marine species? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a usual day like for you?

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

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

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

What research would you love to conduct?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your new Care Vet, 


Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Julie Yamamoto

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Julie Yamamoto

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


Celebrating Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Barbara Callahan

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

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

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

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

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

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


Women in Oiled Wildlife Response – Wendy Massey

Wendy Massey is currently the OWCN’s Field Operations Facilities Specialist. She has had a huge influence on me since I started here and has taught me an incredible amount about oiled wildlife, response operations, and been my guiding hand through every response I have been a part of. But aside from that, Wendy has been a prominent figure in wildlife response for decades and is a well-known and respected member of this profession. Here is her story.  

My late uncle was International Bird Rescue’s Jay Holcomb – so you might say I was born into the business. Jay was always involved in animal rehabilitation and as soon as I could walk I followed him everywhere. Because of that I have been surrounded by wildlife rehabilitation literally my entire life. Growing up in Marin County meant oiled birds were often in the mix. In the beginning I would help Jay care for and wash oiled birds while standing on a step stool, as I was too young to reach the exam table or sink. Oiled wildlife rehabilitation presents challenges that are much different from the norm so it was a specialty I was drawn to as I grew older. Helping these animals became very important to me so in 1992 I started responding to oil spills with the International Bird Rescue and Research Center.

Back in the early 90’s we were just starting to participate in all the different aspects of spill response we now take for granted in California. Before that we weren’t part of the Operations Group and no one in Planning or Logistics actively supported the wildlife effort. We often took care of the animals in some off-site warehouse away from all the “real” action. When I look back on my early experiences I think it’s important to mention not only was I a young woman but I was also seen as a “Hippy Tree Hugger” to boot. I remember being on site at the McGrath Lake spill, recovering oiled birds, and feeling pretty uncomfortable. Incorporating wildlife response into a spill event was new to the oil industry and not always welcomed or understood. This was one of the first times I worked at an actual spill site shoulder to shoulder with representatives of the responsible party, natural resource trustees, and oil spill response organizations. These were almost always men and I would hear them make a lot of casual sexual comments directed at or made about me. Comments mostly came during conversations carried out over open radio comms that I heard through the handset I was required to carry and monitor. Sometimes these were made face to face with the apparent goal of making me feel I didn’t belong there. Thinking back, it’s amazing to me that these guys felt entitled to just say anything they wanted! I never feared for my safety but definitely was very uncomfortable. If that happened today I certainly would report it, but back then we were lucky just to be there and be allowed to recover the affected animals.

For those who aren’t familiar with the history, the McGrath Lake Response happened before OWCN existed. Wildlife responders worked directly with the newly instituted California Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). For this response our OSPR partners were Dr. Dave Jessup and Tim Williamson. I’m not sure that OSPR knew what to think about working with rehabilitators, but we made it work and Dave and Tim remain friends of mine to this day.

Early in my career I wanted to expand my skills beyond the capture and care of animals. I transitioned to the facilities side of wildlife response where being a woman wasn’t necessarily a plus. Not having purpose-built facilities in California at that time meant we had to find and alter existing structures to suit our special needs. I often dealt with contractors needed to install critical systems. Oiled wildlife care facilities require specific and unusual infrastructure. When explaining my needs to the contractors I would often be met with condescension and comments like “little lady I don’t think you know how plumbing works, so let me try and explain it in a way you can maybe understand”. Although I often dealt with these men’s derogatory attitudes and comments, thankfully there were always other men who supported me along the way. From day one Tim Williamson was one of those men. He always did everything he could to help me succeed.

Some of my favorite memories from my response experiences revolve around the people I was fortunate to work with. I firmly believe you’re only as good as the people around you and I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by some very good people. Every spill event is different. The location, the type(s) of affected animals, product, time of year, how long after the event before you’re activated, etc. always varies and impacts your mission. Despite well-designed protocols, how you care for and recover animals also is very often different. Because of all these variables, and the lessons learned during past responses, I can’t overly emphasize the importance of thinking outside the box. For me the diversity of experiences, those new and constantly evolving challenges, and the reward of helping the impacted animals is what keeps me coming back for more. I learn something different on every spill response that helps broaden my view of what may be successful in spills that follow.

One of my favorite spills was the 1996 M/V Citrus spill. The spill was in the middle of the Bering Sea with oiled birds coming ashore on the Pribilof Islands. International Bird Rescue sent recovery groups out to the islands, but the animal care facility was in Anchorage. I was responsible for our wildlife care facilities which proved to be a big challenge. I believe we wound up with over 200 birds in care. Most of these were King Eiders. Because it was winter in Alaska we had to house operations indoors. I had limited space to work with and had to find a separate dry space for the oiled birds as well as pool space for the clean birds. You can’t discharge pool wastewater outside in an Alaskan winter because it simply freezes on the ground. I had to find a solution to supplying and discharging water without it freezing. That’s when I learned how important it is to be really innovative. That spill pushed me beyond my comfort zone and forced me to find ways to successfully solve our problems. Another reason this response is a favorite is because we worked side-by-side with the U.S. Coast Guard in the facility, all day, every day. At the outset they looked unfavorably on pretty much everything we did. By the end of the response their attitude changed, and they were just as invested and engaged in the wildlife response as we were. It was an incredible experience.

The California oil spill response industry continues to evolve. It’s now a more professional arena that provides a more equitable chance for all parties to succeed, but there are still improvements to be made. I no longer hear offensive comments made over open radio communications, but this doesn’t mean all instances of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior have vanished. Men in the response industry are part of society at large and not divorced from its general problems. Also, wildlife response has matured and become a more professional undertaking. Those working in this field (both female and male) are more easily accepted by responders filling more traditional roles. Unlike in the past, if I encounter a problem today I feel comfortable coming forward with any complaints or concerns.

What advice would I give to women interested in this field? If you can commit to long hours, inconvenient work schedules, and passionately care about wildlife – I highly recommend it. It’s been a great ride and it’s not over yet.

Wendy’s career is definitely long from over, and I for one, look forward to our continued collaboration and innovation for years to come! All photos in this post were provided by Wendy Massey and Mike Ziccardi.