Training In Azerbaijan

Hello all- This week I was fortunate enough to be asked to help our partners International Bird Rescue (IBR) on a IMG_1775training in Baku, Azerbaijan. Now if you are an American like me, your geographical knowledge is less than stellar, so here is a map of the region. The reason Azerbaijan is an important spot for oil spill training is that the Caspian Sea is a major production area for oil, with the resultant crude then being sent via pipeline through Georgia to the Black Sea, or then through Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea. The city of Baku itself reflects this relatively new increase in production and prosperity. Old, USSR-era buildings blend in with modern high-rises with amazingly graceful design. Baku is also home to the first European games this summer, so sports complexes are being built throughout – each of which rival the complexity of those seen in Beijing for the summer olympics!IMG_1799 The training itself was two separate 2-day overview trainings given to industry representatives, governmental officials (from ministries and the state oil company), zoo staff, university faculty and students, and local ornithological members, among others. Curt Clumpner, Barbara Callahan and I walked everyone through information pertaining to all of the different areas of an oiled wildlife response (from field ops to release), but also spent time on planning, response management, and discussing the existing plans should a spill occur here in the region. The most engaging part of the class was when Curt broke the class into smaller groups, gave them the footprints of one of three areas where facilities would likely be developed were there a spill (in Alaska, Georgia, and Azerbaijan) and had themIMG_1817 develop a workable plan – thinking about animal flow, zoning, utilities, and all the important aspects needed for an effective response. He even made them think about a variety of species, including porcupines and terrestrial reptiles! For me, there were three particularly notable aspects of the training that really stood out. First was the excitement and interest that was evident in most of the younger NGO and zoo participants, and the intense desire by the governmental and industry participants to develop a working plan for effective oiled wildlife response. Compared to many classes, we were constantly behind schedule simply due to the number of great questions being raised on all of the material! Second, it was great to work with world experts on the Caspian seal, a globally endangered phocid smaller than our harbor seal but at great risk in the region due to its ecology. IMG_1805Through my work with NOAA and helping to steer the National guidelines for oiled marine mammal response, speak with these biologists and helping to work through potential response options was particularly gratifying. Last, working with Barbara and Curt really helped to highlight the strong, world-class partnership that exists between IBR and the OWCN. The training itself went almost seamlessly between the three of us as trainers, with each of us helping to answer questions and make comments as they arose, and it was clear to all in the questions and comments we received that both organizations were world leaders on oiled wildlife readiness and response. IMG_1835So, as I sit in the Baku lounge waiting for my VERY long flight back to the States, I find myself very happy for the opportunity to experience another culture this year (Bangladesh in Jan, Azerbaijan in Feb, ??? in Mar), but also for the great work that the oiled wildlife response community is doing worldwide to better prepare to respond should animals be in crisis during spills. It also makes me VERY grateful for the thousands of excellent responders and pre-established facilities we have in California. There is truly no place like our state as far as the readiness to deliver best achievable capture and care 24/7/365! – Mike

Snow, Marbled Murrelets, Glaciers, and Seabird Talks

Mike and I recently returned from Juneau, Alaska, where we participated in the Pacific Seabird Group annual meeting.  Between Thursday and Saturday of last week we were able to listen to a number of interesting talks about seabirds in the Pacific, learning everything from what seabirds eat to the most technologically-advanced gadgets for tracking seabirds (perfect for a gadget geek like me!).  In addition, Mike and I were co-conveners of a Special Paper Session entitled, “Oiled Seabird Rescue and Rehabilitation: Is it Worth It?”  This session was well-attended and featured ten excellent presentations.  The following is a list of the titles of the talks and the presenters:

  • Oiled seabird rescue and rehabilitation:  is it worth it? (Kyra Mills-Parker, OWCN – UC Davis)
  • Variables that can affect survival of oil-affected seabirds before, during, and after the rehabilitation process (Michael Ziccardi (OWCN – UC Davis)
  • Magnetic cleansing of oiled seabirds:  where are we and where to next? (Peter Dann, Phillip Island Nature Parks, Australia)
  • Impacts of major oil spills in California, 1994-2013 (Hannah Nevins, UC Davis, DFW-Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center)
  • Longevity and dispersion of rehabilitated seabirds and waterfowl, 1980-2010: preliminary data from oiled bird band returns (Becky Duerr, International Bird Rescue)
  • Penguins clearly benefit from rehabilitation following exposure to oil (Valeria Ruoppolo, Univ. of Sao Paolo and IFAW)
  • Oiled wildlife response in New Zealand: the C/V Rena incident (Kerri Morgan, Massey Univ., presented by Michael Ziccardi)
  • Causes of seabird mortality in the immediate aftermath of the Rena oil spills, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand (Shane Baylis, Monash Univ.)
  • Impacts of the 2001 Jessica oil spill on endemic and native Galapagos birds, reptiles, and mammals (Howard Snell, Univ. of New Mexico)
  • Seabirds, oil spill response and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: DWH and changing management priorities (Roger Helm, USFWS)

Each of the talks offered interesting and thought-provoking information on different topics related to oil spill events, the effects of oiling on seabirds, and summaries of impacts and rehabilitation efforts. Full abstracts of each of these talks can be found at the PSG website by clicking here. The meeting provided a great opportunity to re-connect with old colleagues, meet new ones, and share ideas.  Despite the 50+ degree difference in temperature between Juneau and California, Mike and I were warmed, humbled, and inspired by this conference.

And yes, we did  see snow, glaciers, AND Marbled Murrelets (the last two only at a distance!).



Mike Ziccardi and Becky Duerr with Mendenhall Glacier in the background.

New OWCN Staff Opening

As most of you know, Emily Whitmer, our technician extraordinaire, has been accepted into vet school here at UCD beginning this Fall. While we are happy for her, we are saddened to lose her as a permanent member of the OWCN team, and need to move forward filling this key role within the OWCN as soon as possible (but definitely before the end of the summer).

As such, please find this position description here. Please note that the role has changed somewhat in that this position will now take a greater role in supporting both field as well as facility aspects of the OWCN. The official University posting (as well as application procedures) can be found here.

If anyone has any questions about the position, I would be happy to speak with folks. Please email me at mhziccardi (at)  Thanks!

– Mike

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

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

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


Hero Beavers and Tarry Rivers

Two recent spills highlight the importance of preparedness, and remind us that not all spills are in marine environments.  The spill that Nancy mentioned in her blog last week involved a pipeline in Utah that leaked about 27,000 gallons of diesel into Willard Bay Reservoir.  Fortunately for the reservoir (and those that depend on the drinking water it provides), the spill was largely contained by a beaver dam.  Unfortunately for the beavers, they got heavily contaminated with diesel.  Six beavers –one adult and five juveniles–were taken into care at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah (

Diesel fuel is volatile petroleum product that causes skin burns and damage to sensitive tissues of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts.  The beavers were drenched in diesel and arrived at the center with damage to their skin, mouths, gastrointestinal tracts, and nasal passages. They are getting excellent care and all of them are now eating on their own, but they have a long way to go before they are back to normal.  That’s the thanks they get for building the dam that protected the bay! The Center’s website has links to various videos and articles about the spill:

A larger pipeline spill in Arkansas has gotten more press, perhaps partly for the dramatic photos of “rivers” of oil flooding the suburban community of Mayflower.  Twenty-two homes were evacuated and numerous species of wildlife have been affected, although total numbers of live animals in care have not been reported.  The pipeline was carrying a heavy product similar to that which is likely to run through the proposed–and highly controversial–Keystone XL pipeline. Inevitably, this spill has added fodder to the objections raised against the Keystone XL pipeline; one interesting article can be found here:

Over 200,000 gallons of petroleum were spilled in Arkansas, and they are still investigating the cause. If you want to follow the official news releases from the Mayflower Incident Unified Command, click on this link and look for the pdfs in the lower right hand corner:


Continue reading

Around the World with OWCN

I spent some time looking at the stats section of our blog-hosting site (and a little bit of time staring at the wall), in an attempt to procrastinate my workday today.  What I ended up finding (on the website, not the wall) turned out to be an interesting blog idea!

OWCN blog viewers by country

One of the newer blog features allows you to look at a map of the world and see which countries have had people view your blog.  I was actually surprised at how far reaching the OWCN blog has become.  Since the country identification creation for the blog on February 12, 2012, we have had viewers from 124 different countries visit our blog site!  Not bad, considering there are 196 countries in the world.  Of course the number of 196 countries is arguable, but that’s a topic for another blog.

Even more interesting was to see which countries had the most viewers to our blog.  While the U.S. predictably has a commanding lead, it was neat to see that we have a large number of viewers in Canada, the UK, Australia, India, New Zealand, and the Philippines.  I’m embarrassingly bad at world geography, so maybe this isn’t huge news to all of you, but I was quite excited to discover we even had blog viewers in countries I’ve never even heard of, and I had a great time looking them up on the map (Hello to our viewers in Vanuatu, Montenegro, New Caledonia, and Benin!!!).

One thing the OWCN strives for is continued outreach, to not only help spread awareness of oiled wildlife, but to also help prepare other groups for spill response.  So whether these viewers are just casual readers interested in the topic of spill response, or other groups looking to learn more, it is very exciting that we are able to reach so many people.  I would like to encourage our viewers around the world to continue viewing our blog, and to stop by our facebook page ( and like us.  We would love to hear from all of you and find out what you are doing for oiled wildlife response in your area.  And to all our viewers near and far, please share our blog so we can fill in those missing areas on our map!


Happy Anniversary Cosco Busan!

Exactly five years ago today, the OWCN received a call from OSPR about a small spill (approx. 140 gallons) in San Francisco Bay from a container vessel that had an “allision” (yes, I had to look that one up!) with the Bay Bridge. At that point, no oiled wildlife had been seen but, as a precaution due to the more than 1.6 million birds that come to the SF Bay each year, two teams were requested to do some initial reconnaissance. Our teams quickly mobilized to the area and observed what looked like a lot more than the original estimate of oil on the surface of the water, as well as a large number of shorebirds and waterfowl throughout the area. Later that afternoon, OSPR and the US Coast Guard developed their own estimate of the volume spilled – 58,000 gallons of intermediate fuel oil – and, as they say, the rest is history; history that has changed the face of oiled wildlife response in California since.

In the ensuing two months, the OWCN mounted its largest oiled wildlife response to date, ultimately collecting 1,083 live oiled birds and 1,854 dead ones before the conclusion of the event. It also mounted the largest field collection effort ever instituted, with more than 300 person-days of search effort and greater than 1200 miles of coastline directly searched (in addition to hundreds and hundreds of miles scanned by recovery and reconnaissance staff and volunteers). At the facility, more than 400 person-days of staff and 1500 person-days of volunteer effort was used, with volunteers giving more than 13,000 hours towards the effort. At the height of the effort, more than 740 live birds were in the never-before-used-for-a-large-spill San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center, fully testing the purpose-built facility to close to its designed capacity with very challenging species such as surf scoters, grebes, waterfowl, and loons. The facility, as well as all personnel involved, responded admirably, ultimately releasing more than 420 clean birds to their natural environment.

This is not to say everything went smoothly – far from it on many fronts. There are many reports and reviews on these issues, so I will just concentrate on a few of those that impacted or related to the OWCN. First, it being a environmental disaster in the backyard of a region that is proud of their strong environmental stewardship, there was a demand from Day 0 from the public and governmental officials to get key information on who was at fault and what they were doing to fix it. Compounding this demand was a sense of distrust from the mis-reporting of the spill volume early in the response, as well as less-than-optimal reporting on response activities. Second, because the SF Bay is a very dynamic waterway, the oil quickly spread throughout the Bay from San Rafael south to Hayward, as well as outside the Bay from Palomarin to Pacifica – making cleanup and recovery challenging. Third, while the OWCN had participated in recovery of oiled wildlife in the past (providing experts to support the effort), it had not been given the mandate to lead such efforts, so training and recruitment of interested personnel was not at the same level as animal care efforts. This led to a sense that not enough field personnel were available and on the beaches. Confounding this was the newly-developed OWCN Hotline for reporting oiled wildlife – a hotline that crashed in the first weekend due to the massive numbers of people calling it to get any available information they could pertaining to the spill. Last (and certainly not least) was the huge number of individuals interested in volunteering to help respond to the spill. Traditionally, the Unified Command sends all of these people to wildlife operations to assist in rehabilitation but, since the OWCN has developed such a robust volunteer corps of more than 2,000 pre-trained individuals, the OWCN needed very few “convergent” or “spontaneous” volunteers. This rejection, coupled with early mis-information, lack of timely messaging, and a large spill area, created a “perfect storm” of public dissatisfaction with the response.

Since the conclusion of the Cosco Busan spill, many audits, reports and inquiries have been done to better understand the problems and flaws of the system to better improve readiness in the future. Several of these included information directly related to the OWCN and its operations. On the whole, the OWCN was highly praised for its animal care systems and capacity to quickly provide “best achievable care to oil affected animals”. However, two key elements in the Department of Finance audit of the response and the US Coast Guard’s Incident Specific Preparedness Review related directly to the OWCN:

  • It was noted that field operations in California needed to be significantly increased to provide a similar level of services to the OWCN’s animal care arm. In working with OSPR and the Legislature, AB 2911 (Wolk) provided additional funds “to officially  make the Oiled Wildlife Care Network responsible for the proactive search for and rescue of oiled wildlife, and improve the number of volunteers and capacity to train volunteers used in rescuing oiled wildlife”. The OWCN has since moved forward aggressively with a Recovery program (and, more recently, with a complementary Field Stabilization program), and now has more than 270 fully trained individuals throughout the state ready and able to respond to oiled wildlife on the beach.
  • It was also identified that volunteers from the public should be incorporated into the response effort if at all possible. Because of the breadth of the OWCN program in California, additional responsibilities for interested individuals needed to be found, as well as working out liability and training issues for such activities. OSPR, in concert with the OWCN and other non-governmental organizations, have since developed a “Non-Oiled Wildlife” Volunteer Plan that identifies a number of other tasks that interested people can take part in, as well as be available to the OWCN should additional volunteers be needed for animal care.

While not directly noted as necessary in the many reviews that occurred after the event, the OWCN has also beefed up other parts to its system post-Cosco, including (but not limited to): 1) a more responsive and robust wildlife reporting hotline that can be rolled to a live attendant or a system like San Francisco’s 211 program during spills; 2) a better communication flow directly from the OWCN, including this blog and other social media outlets; 3) more field stabilization units for deployment nearer to spill locations should the be at a distance from a primary care centers; 4) greater hazing capacities should oiled animals need to be kept from a spill zone; 5) additional recovery equipment such as ATVs, boats and a Mobile Command Post; and 6) increased supply caches at each primary care center.

These are just a few of the many “lessons learned” from the Cosco Busan response, and why it is important to not only do excellent work during the spill, but to critically evaluate the successes and changes needed after each spill to improve systems and capacities. While California is largely considered the most capable and responsive region in the world for oiled wildlife response, events such as these help to remind us that you can never be too prepared should another “allision” occur in the future!

– Mike