OWCN’s Individual Oiled Animal Program

Screen Shot 2019-12-19 at 9.32.03 AMProgram History:

The Individual Oiled Animal Program, which started in 1998, was created to prepare OWCN member organizations for oil spill response by encouraging the utilization of OWCN animal care protocols while rehabilitating birds contaminated with unidentified sources of petroleum. Additionally, oil samples collected from these patients allow us to better characterize environmental contamination from unknown sources of petroleum along the coast of California.

Traditionally, our Member Organizations who wish to be a part of this program report an oiled animal by calling it into our hotline and then submitting their patient medical records and oiled animal evidence to us by mail, but all that is going to change soon!

Program Future:

Starting on January 1st, 2020, our Individual Oiled Animal reporting and compensation program will be available only through WRMD (Wildlife Rehabilitation Medical Database; a free wildlife medical record database). We believe this will be a more efficient process with enhanced data collection ability and easier reporting!

If you are one of our Member Organizations, here is what this means for you:

  • In order to report and receive reimbursement for care of Individual Oiled Animals, you will need to have a WRMD account.
  • Creating a patient’s record in WRMD and saving specific data for that patient will generate an email report to OWCN advising us of your receipt of an Individual Oiled Animal as well as allow us to access that patient’s WRMD record.
  • You will care for the patient as normal, using OWCN protocols, and complete the patient’s medical record in WRMD.
  • If you are a Primary Care Facility, you will be collecting oiled evidence and washing Individual Oiled Animals and will need to fill out the pertinent data in the animal’s WRMD record.
  • You will no longer be required to call and report Individual Oiled Animals through our hotline or submit paper medical records in order to receive reimbursement, however submission of the monthly report and invoice are still required.

We hope this program will greatly improve Individual Oiled Animal response and our ability to learn from these animals and we look forward to working with all of you to make this as smooth and exciting a transition as possible!



Individual Oiled Birds

We all know what typically happens when there’s an oil spill: the spill gets reported to the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), OWCN is activated (if there is wildlife involved), and then personnel from our Member Organizations are deployed for reconnaissance, rescue, and rehabilitation. But what happens when someone finds an oiled bird and no spill has been reported?

OWCN has an Individual Oiled Bird (IOB) Program for exactly this situation. It serves to alert us to animals that are oiled, provide some financial support for the care of these birds and facilitate practice and ongoing evaluation of our protocols. When one of our Member Organizations receives a bird with oil on it and reports it to OWCN, it gets added to our IOB spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is monitored by OSPR and OWCN to assess if the number of oiled birds seems unusual or suspicious. “Unusual” includes there being more than three oiled birds from the same general area in a single day, or one or more oiled birds per day from the same area for three consecutive days. If this is seen, a series of events are triggered, the first being communication between OSPR and the OWCN team.

OSPR and OWCN discuss whether an immediate analysis of samples is warranted, and if so, samples are sent to the OSPR Petroleum Chemistry Lab (PCL) for oil fingerprinting (identification of the origin of a particular sample of crude oil by its chemical composition). A representative sample, including oiled feather samples from birds from the different areas affected, as well as from the span of dates are typically selected.

In the meantime, more precise data on the numbers and locations of birds recovered are updated on the Individual Oiled Bird spreadsheet, and a report is submitted to Cal-OES (The California Office of Emergency Services). Results from the PCL are usually back within 24 hours, and there we have our answer…whether the oil is from natural seepage, or whether there is an unreported oil spill. If it’s natural seepage, then we continue to offer support to our Member Organizations as they care for these individual oiled birds, and if it’s from an anthropogenic source, OSPR makes the call to activate OWCN.

During the first two weeks of February, we saw an uptick in the number of IOB’s coming from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, which eventually produced more than 50 oiled birds. Following our schematic above, oiled feather samples from 13 birds were sent to the PCL, which determined that the oil was natural seepage, presumed to have been amplified by the recent storms. In the past few days, we are again seeing “unusual” numbers of IOB’s, 27 so far, from the Monterey area. Oiled feather samples are on their way to the PCL for testing as I write this and we are hopeful this “event” will end soon.

We are so thankful to all of our Member Organizations that have been hard at work rescuing and rehabilitating these birds!

– Lorraine



Labor of Love

The fish oil pelican event in northern California continues.  Tim and I just returned from Arcata last night, where we were continuing to help our friends at Bird Ally X with a variety of tasks related to caring for the pelicans that have been impacted by fish oil discharge from fish-cleaning stations in Crescent City and Shelter Cove over the past month or so.  Tim helped build a new washing table (see picture below), and I did a variety of jobs, including feeding, washing, and caring for the pelicans.  It was a very positive experience for me and I learned so much during the past few days.


Brand new wash table.

The general feeling that one gets being at the facility is how similar this is to a real oil spill.  Time is of the essence – to capture the birds affected as quickly as possible, because the quicker you capture them, usually the better shape they are in; to set up the facilities and personnel needed to care for such a large number of animals; and lastly, to continue to operate, day after day, on little sleep (and usually lots of sugar and caffeine) without burning out.


Lucinda and Laura washing a pelican – a long process that takes an hour or more.

Animal care is the focus of a response of this nature, but without the humans caring for the animals, the whole operation would fail.  And it is the human aspect, which is at its finest, in times of crisis.  Without the help and support of people, Bird Ally X would not be able to care for these pelicans.  Not only is the financial support essential, but also the support of the countless volunteers that come to help out every day and are willing to go home smelling like fish and pelican vomit.  These people put in long hours doing jobs that are not all that glamorous, such as loads of laundry, thawing thousands of fish, and hosing down pelican enclosures.  There is also Linda, who shows up with a smiling face every day around 5:00 pm with delicious out-of-this-world home cooked meals for all the staff and volunteers.  I very much enjoyed meeting and working with everyone the past few days.


Monte, Laura, January, Kyra, and Tim in front of the washing hut.

Like pieces of a puzzle, every little bit that everyone does contributes to the overall success of a response, whether it is fish oil or crude oil that coats the birds’ feathers.  In the wise words of Aesop, “it is not only fine feathers that make fine birds”.  Even though these pelicans are covered in fish oil and for the moment don’t have “fine” feathers, I feel certain that at least most of them will be just “fine”.  They are receiving excellent care by an amazing group of people that care for them deeply.

Happy weekend, everyone!


Pelicans and fish waste don’t mix

Temporary pelican housing in Arcata

Tim, Becky, and I just returned from Arcata where we were helping our friends at Bird Ally X and Humboldt Wildlife Care Center with a pelican response.  Pelicans all along the north coast have been contaminated with fish waste being discharged into the ocean.  Instead of getting a free meal, they get oily feathers and lose their waterproofing.  Although Bird Ally X is working with local authorities to stop the discharge, in the meantime they have more than 100 contaminated pelicans waiting to be washed.

Tim and Becky spent all day Tuesday working on facilities, finishing up another tent to house dirty pelicans. Tim made some improvements on the other tents, increasing ventilation with strategically placed holes and some fans.  I examined and bled pelicans already in care, did some intake exams, and looked at the medical cases.  Becky helped with pelican exams, cared for sick pelicans, and processed the blood samples.  Tim also built a second wash station, which will help a lot, as many birds are currently ready for wash.

They have some very dedicated interns and volunteers helping out, but because it is summer in this college town, there aren’t as many people around to help.  On the other hand, a steady stream of new volunteers came through the doors, showing that the local community is eager to help with their pelican population.  Volunteers also took care of the staff, bringing by coffee, bagels, snacks, and even home-cooked meals!  Luckily, the pelicans are self-feeding, so that helps simplify things a bit.

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to visit the Humboldt Bay area, now’s the time — volunteers are urgently needed to help with construction as well as washing and animal care.


Here’s Becky showing off her talents at facilities modification!

Pelicans in a tent, with their new ventilation fan visible in back, courtesy of Tim.

On the road

Hello, Emily here.  I’m writing from the road as I spend a couple of weeks traveling in California.  This week, Christine, Tim, Nancy, Megan (a UCD 4th year vet student extern), and I have had the pleasure and the privilege of helping with the initial efforts of a research project on sea otters in southern California.  The project is a collaboration among biologists, veterinarians, and researchers from the US Geological Survey, CA Department of Fish and Game, Monterey Bay Aquarium, University of Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara Zoo, and others.   Researchers are working here to understand the life of an otter at the southern extent of the range.  For a few pictures of our work, you can visit OSPR’s Facebook site.

Next week, I’m headed to the Los Angeles Oiled Bird Care and Education Center in San Pedro to work with International Bird Rescue.  Winter weather often brings oil to the surface of the ocean especially in southern California, and this year is no different.  Over the past week, we’ve seen tarballs and oil patties on the beaches and in the water, likely from these seeps.  A large number of birds, especially common murres, have been affected by natural seep oil over the past few months.  OWCN Member Organizations work hard to rehabilitate these animals and return them to the ocean.  They also report them to the OWCN so that we can monitor trends in space and time.  Feather samples can be analyzed by the California Department of Fish and Game’s Petroleum Chemistry lab to determine the source, and if the oil is determined to be from an anthropogenic source, rather than a natural seep, the OWCN is activated to respond.  The OWCN is not activated for animals affected by natural seeps; instead, we work to support our Member Organizations by helping to offset costs and by providing our time.  I’m looking forward to my time at LAOBCEC next week – it will be a fantastic learning opportunity for me, and I’m eager to help out.  For some more information about natural seep oil, check out this site by USGS.


What Has Brown Done For The OWCN Lately?!?

For those of you who have attended Oilapalooza for several years now, you know that the OWCN has been working diligently on developing a medical records database that will capture electronically much of the basic information that we all collect during spills.

Imagine – field data that doesn’t have to be entered on the bird box, the beach search effort, the field stabilization form, the Live Animal Log, and the Intake sheet! Paradise you might say – and I would agree! Even better, for those of us who have played “Bird Record Bingo” with the records late at night during large spills to collate and reconcile the data so that wash lists, pre-wash exam lists, pre-release evaluations can be done at the earliest opportunity. Ah, it brings a small tear to my eye just thinking of it!

Well, in order to try and make this happen, the OWCN has been working for a long, long time on different iterations of just such a system (and as the resident Ol’ Timer on this, I have files and versions dating back to 1998 discussing this very issue). The most recent exciting evolution of this has been partnering with UPS (yes, Big Brown) on the modification of their TrackPad system, used for tracking packages throughout the world, to track birds (and their data) through the facility. This system will use a combination of handheld PCs and laptop computers, all connected to both a local server and a remote server at UC Davis, to capture the basic info we need to move animals through to system. Ideally, this will also include the integration of bar codes on bands, on cages/pools and on examiners so that those basic data can be quickly and effectively collected with few errors.

On the data analysis side, this system would (and will) be coupled with custom reports so that, at the push of a button, we can have bird wash lists generated based on pre-established criteria, medical records available to review, and the animal number so urgently needed by the Unified Command available on a near-real-time capability.

All this sounds great, you say. Well, where is it?!? Well, we have had a number of hurdles to go over – some more challenging than others (Deepwater Horizon, loss of key OWCN staff), some more technical in nature (the OWCN Director needing to learn server technology) and some simply due to the lack of time from all parties involved. However, in the last several months, due largely to the persistence of Emily and the availability of Mike Dutra (our UPS lead contact), we are making great strides in moving forward. We actually have a system ready to be “alpha-tested”, looking at entering the data from each of the facility areas and ensuring this information is correctly transferred to the servers. Once that is done, we will be ready to work directly with our other rehabilitation partners to ensure the information captured is done in the most effective manner.

So, while it isn’t ready for the official unveiling quite yet, I am ecstatic about our most recent progress. Hopefully, at the next Oilapalooza, we will have more than just pretty pictures to show – maybe we can have wet labs on how to run the system! Stay tuned!

– Mike

Otters, Seaducks and Oil – Oh My!

Sea Otter Mother with Pup (Photo Courtesy of Mike Baird, The Otter Project flikr group)

This was a very busy week in the news for (and issues that might relate to) oiled wildlife.  Some highlights:

Duck Winter Survival Rates Stabilize More than a Decade After Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Although thousands of birds and mammals were killed immediately following the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, the long-term effects of oil exposure on the region’s wildlife remain a concern.

Falklands Dispute: Argentine Sovereignty Won’t Solve the Problem (The Huffington Post): For the sake of the marine environment and the Magellanic penguin, Britain and Argentina need to ratchet back oil development on the Falkland Islands, not promote further exploration.

Obama to Open Offshore Areas to Oil Drilling for First Time (NY Times): The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.

French court upholds oil spill ruling versus Total (Times of Malta): A French appeals court yesterday upheld key elements of a verdict against oil giant Total over a disastrous 1999 oil spill in a ruling with wide implications for the global oil industry’s environmental responsibilities.

“Olive” the Oiled Otter (Facebook): Olive is thriving on the eastside of Santa Cruz!

California Sea Otter numbers down for third year (SJ Mercury News): The fragile California Sea Otter population is in decline for the third straight year, according to a comprehensive year-end report issued by The Otter Project.

Avian Flu Risk Still Present (FAO): International task force concerned over declining support for H5N1 monitoring, despite disease persistence and spread.

Enteric bacterial pathogen detection in southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) is associated with coastal urbanization and freshwater runoff: Journal article in Veterinary Research by Melissa Miller and colleagues.

Update on California’s Brown Pelican Event (IBRRC.org): Since January 1, 2010, IBRRC has treated nearly 550 pelicans at its two bird rescue centers in California.

And lastly, to celebrate the spirit of yesterday:

– Mike

OR Bird Event

foam_slime_loon_2009Just a quick post to alert our Members about a major bird event that OWCN partners are heavily involved with.

More than 450 birds have been transported to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center from the Wildlife Center of the North Coast (near Astoria, OR) as a result of a phytoplankton bloom off of Oregon’s coast. This event appears to be similar in nature to the 2007 bird event in Monterey Bay, where more than 550 live birds were collected and cared for at OSPR’s Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care & Research Center in Santa Cruz (coincidentally, at the same time as the Cosco Busan spill).  Due to the small facilities available in Astoria, IBRRC has organized two transports (truck and C-130 air) to get these seabirds to CA so that they can receive care from IBRRC staff and volunteers at our purpose-built facilities.  An additional 100 birds were also sent to PAWS in Lynnwood, WA for additional care.  I have been in regular contact with Jay Holcomb of IBRRC, and the OWCN (via UC Davis’ staff and equipment) are supporting IBRRC’s efforts as we can.

To stay updated on this effort (and to see how you can best help), please keep tabs on IBRRC’s excellent blog. For more information on the results of the 2007 event in CA (including how a diatom can cause such problems in seabirds), please read Dave Jessup’s PLoS One article.


One Other Marine Bird Report

From a 27 July Press Release by PRBO Conservation Science:

Double-crested Cormorants in Sharp Decline

Double-Crested Cormorant

Double-crested cormorant resting in a tree near Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Is the Double Crested Cormorant the big black canary in the coal mine of the changing San Francisco Bay ecosystem? Data collected by PRBO Conservation Science biologists from the Bay Bridge and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge nesting colonies are showing a steep decline. Number of breeding birds dropped by 90% at the Bay Bridge (see graphic). Not since PRBO began studying these cormorants in 1988 has there been such a drop in numbers. This is yet another signal from the seabirds of a stressed marine food web in our region.

Already 2009 will be remembered as the worst year for all Bay Area cormorants in memory. Cormorants have been particularly impacted by food shortages this season. Heavy sustained March winds resulting in an over-mixing of the marine nutrients likely caused a prey disruption particularly affecting anchovy – a common cormorant prey item that is high in energetic value. This lack of food triggered a starvation event, especially noticeable among Brandt’s Cormorants along the central coast of California.  Preliminary results from Kathy Hieb (California Department of Fish and Game) confirm this, as the abundance of large anchovy – the most common fish in the Bay – is far below normal this year. John Field (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has also confirmed record low anchovy abundance off the central coast of California during May and June of this year, with greater anchovy numbers off southern California. This lack of food resulted in severely reduced or halted nesting at many colonies in the Bay Area, including the Farallon Islands.  SF Bay cormorants were also hard hit, with Double-crested Cormorant carcasses found with the Brandt’s Cormorants, no nesting of Brandt’s Cormorants on Alcatraz Island, and the Double-crested Cormorant colony on the Bay Bridge dropping from 814 nests to 83 nests in the last two years.  Other Double-crested Cormorant colonies in the Bay Area are showing similar declines, as corroborated by Caitlin Robinson of San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.

2 DCCO chicks

Double-crested cormorant chicks (Courtesy IBRRC)

“Such dramatic changes don’t just happen by chance. The cormorants are telling us that something is amiss in these environments; now we need to see if they can also tell us what it is,” says Dr John Wiens, PRBO Chief Conservation Science Officer. Another reproductive study is warranted to try to determine what is causing the steep decline in Double-crested Cormorant nesting colonies in SF Bay.  There could be many factors at play including food shortage, human disturbance, and pollution. Given similar declines in nesting seabirds in the region this year (Common Murre and Brandt’s Cormorants), food shortage appears to be the dominant factor.  Such an extreme drop in numbers is alarming; when a species as abundant as the Double-crested Cormorant disappears from the Bay, it indicates the forage fish species of the marine ecosystem are ailing.

– Mike

Celebrate International Migratory Bird Day

Celebrate birds on International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD), typically the second Saturday in May (tomorrow).  For a review of the event and lists of sites near you that recognize this day see: http://www.birdday.org/

One sobering yet stimulating document that you might want to read in honor of IMBD is the recently released report from the U.S. Dept. of Interior called The State of the Birds – a pdf version is available at: http://www.stateofthebirds.org/pdf_files/State_of_the_Birds_2009.pdf

This figure is from The State of the Birds report:

Species of Conservation Concern


For seabirds, the main group of birds affected by oil spills, 39% of species are declining, 37% stable,  12% increasing, and too few data exist on 12%. Threats to ocean birds include fishing bycatch, pollution, problems on breeding grounds, and food supplies altered by rising ocean temperatures.

– Nils