My week at The Marine Mammal Center: Seals, sea lions, fur seals and much, much more!


Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is the beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success.”

As you may know, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) was established 25 years ago with the goal of bringing together universities, regulatory agencies, and wildlife care organizations with the interest of working collaboratively to rescue and rehabilitate oiled wildlife. Today, the network has more than 40 Member Organizations and is recognized as a world leader in oiled wildlife response. As part of Readiness and Reaching Out (two of our four R’s) we regularly work with our Member Organizations to build relationships and refine our wildlife capture and care skills.

Last month I had the opportunity to spend a week at The Marine Mammal Center. The Marine Mammal Center is one of our Member Organizations and is the world’s largest marine mammal rehabilitation hospital. Since my past marine mammal experience was limited to working with captive pinnipeds and wild sea otters undergoing rehabilitation, I was in for a real treat (and a steep learning curve).


Danene Birtell, OWCN (left) with Christina Caporale (middle) and Kelly Franky (right), both from the North Carolina Zoo, work together to identify animals that need to be weighed. Credit © The Marine Mammal Center

One of the first lessons I learned was that the herding boards are your best friend and a VERY useful tool, especially with curious California sea lions.  After my orientation I was paired with members of “Crew”, who are very knowledgeable volunteers. During my visit I was able to spend three days on Crew and the only word I have for these individuals is AMAZING! I had the opportunity to learn about animal behavior, diet preparation, animal restraint, documentation, communication, and so much more. The Crew volunteers were very patient anexcellent mentors to all of the visitors. I also had the chance to refresh my veterinary technician skills by spending two days with the Veterinary Science team. I assisted with various types of medical procedures, ranging from intake exams to sedating animals for x-rays and wound management.

Another highlight was the opportunity to work with other visitors who traveled to Sausalito to assist The Marine Mammal Center with the unusually high number of animals that came in this summer. Many of the visitors were from zoos and aquariums, which reminded me of the importance of transdisciplinary collaboration and team building outside of our immediate circle of colleagues.

As we reflect on 25 years since the inception of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network I can honestly say that we have come together, stayed together, and continue to work together to ensure we put our best foot forward to save wildlife impacted by environmental stressors. A HUGE thank you to the OWCN Management Team and The Marine Mammal Center staff and volunteers for all of your support during my visit. Oh, and by the way, I love elephant seals!

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Elephant seal @ The Marine Mammal Center
Credit © The Marine Mammal Center



Danene Birtell -Readiness Coordinator, Oiled Wildlife Care Network

2020-2021 Call for Research Proposals

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) is currently seeking proposals from researchers and wildlife professionals who are interested in getting answers to questions that will:

  • Enhance our ability to save more animals
  • Increase efficient use of current resources
  • Facilitate adoption of new, effective technologies

This year, we are prioritizing proposals that focus on California’s inland species that are at high risk of oiling. This includes wildlife that live in or near inland waters or wetlands that are located near highways, rail lines, production facilities, pipelines, etc..

In particular, we are interested in learning more about:

  • The effects of oil on inland wildlife species
  • Development or testing of deterrent and hazing methods


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A maximum of $200,000 is available for proposals for this fiscal year. Single year projects requesting ≤ $15,000 are considered as small grants. As such, submission of the pre-proposal format suffices as a complete small grant application.  Small-grant proposals should be submitted no later than 5:00 pm (PST) on 20 December 2019.

Investigators requesting > $15,000 (or for multiple years of support), should submit a pre-proposal no later than 5:00 pm (PST) on 6 September 2019. Should the pre-proposal be favorably reviewed, a full proposal will be required. Multi-year projects are considered. However, annual application, provision of complete and timely progress reports, and competitive review are required to maintain ongoing funding.

For more details regarding grant guidelines, proposal format, examples of previously-funded projects, and the review process, please visit the OWCN’s website.

If you have questions, please contact call Pamela Roualdes at or at (530) 752-4167.

Oilapalooza 2019 – Join the Fun!

oilapalooza is now live

If you are an active Oiled Wildlife Care Network responder and would like to join us at this year’s Oilapalooza, log onto your responder profile to sign up now!

Oilapalooza 2019 will be taking place October 16th & 17th in the Arcata/Eureka area.  The first day will consist of lectures on a diverse range of spill response topics at the Sequoia Conference Center in Eureka, followed by an evening reception hosted at The Inn at 2nd and C. The second day consists of hands-on workshops at various local sites, including the Marine Wildlife Care Center located on Humboldt State University campus (Oilapalooza 2019 Workshop Summary (Sneak Peak))

Attending Oilapalooza is free, but spots are limited and go fast, so sign up now!  If you find the list already full, please consider adding yourself to the waitlist, as often a few spots become available as the dates approach. Registration will close on August 31st.

Lastly, if you wish you could join the fun but can’t get away that week, we will be live streaming the lectures on day 1 only via Zoom (more info on this will be shared later this month).

We are really looking forward to this year’s Oilapalooza and hope to see you there!

-The OWCN Management Team

Time Well Spent with International Bird Rescue


A baby dinosaur green heron growing up at International Bird Rescue.

Last month I spent a few days working with one of our member orgs, International Bird Rescue (IBR), at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC) in Cordelia. Visiting and learning about our member orgs is easily my favorite part of my job. I love seeing innovations in wildlife medicine, husbandry, and nutrition. Because wildlife rehab is still a relatively young field, there are seemingly endless possibilities for advancements. When we need to splint the broken toe of a baby heron, do we hop on No! We assemble the supplies available to us—coffee stirrers, a recycled Styrofoam tray, and a few kinds of tape. Does Safeway carry the preferred diet of a growing Killdeer chick? Nope. We concoct a fantastically disgusting platter of invertebrates and experiment with the presentation until the chick finds it irresistible. Yum! We’re pioneers. We’re learners. There’s no textbook (unless we write it!), no youtube tutorial, no college major for wildlife rehab. We learn by doing, by trying, and by talking to each other. That’s why spending time at other rehab centers can be so valuable.

I plan to visit as many of our member orgs as possible over the next few years—starting with those facilities that the OWCN would occupy during a spill. While I find it really interesting to glean helpful tips from working along side other rehabbers, my main objectives on these visits are more broad. Spending a few days shadowing staff and volunteers allows me to get familiar with the daily operations of a center. To learn its strengths, meet its volunteers, and get acquainted with the facility itself—which enclosures are best suited to certain species? How much laundry can be tackled in a day? Where are the pumps for the pools and how the heck do I turn them on??

During my time with IBR at SFBOWCEC I got to help with a variety of tasks. I cleaned cages with some of their most experienced and dedicated volunteers (some of them with more than 10 years of volunteer service under their belts!). I helped move baby ducks, herons, and egrets as they graduated from incubators into wall cages or peliboxes to large aviaries. I prepared countless breakfasts, second breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for hungry gulls, loons, mergansers, herons, egrets, and my favorite—a shearwater! As the center’s summertime “aroma” indicates, IBR goes through a staggering amount of high-quality fish each day. A variety of species are used: Peruvian smelt, night smelt, and capelin—chosen based on their quality, nutrition, and sustainability. The fish are thawed with great care to preserve their nutrients as they progress from freezer to beak. Some patients have more discerning tastes, however, and must be stimulated to eat with live prey. Two common merganser youngsters have been eating dozens of live goldfish each day.


About two days worth of goldfish for the merganser chicks.

These mergansers are particularly challenging to raise with their high risk of habituation, huge appetite for live fish, and need for aquatic housing. But IBR is more than up to the task with strict protocols in place to ensure the birds receive minimal handling and careful food presentation. They’re one of my favorites, but I’m sure IBR staff are eager for these hungry (read: expensive) babies to be released.



The common mergansers graduated to a large pool and immediately started looking for their favorite food–live fish.

IBR raises hundreds of baby dinosaurs—whoops, I mean herons and egrets—each summer. Their needs are very different from the baby passerines I raised on the East coast. I learned a ton about them that week, but the one thing that really stood out was their… um… their stank. They stunk. Wow. I’d like to specifically recognize IBR’s ICU volunteers, because working in a room maintained at 90 degrees and reaching into even warmer incubators to pull out yesterday’s leftover fish is… well… let’s just say it’s memorable. Raising baby egrets and herons is a messy business. Some of the babies end up getting quite dirty after stumbling into their food dishes or ending up on the wrong end of their cagemates’ elimination. These birds must be washed prior to release to ensure their feathers are adequately waterproof. Isabel Luevano, the center manager, enlisted my help to wash five of these dirty little dinosaurs (snowy and cattle egrets). It’s been about a year since I last washed a bird so it was a welcome refresher for me and it was helpful to see SFBOWCEC’s wash room in action.


I also had the privilege of watching Dr. Becky Duerr perform several surgeries and re-checks. Dr. Duerr has contributed a wealth of information and innovation to the wildlife rehab community. I watched her repair the humerus fracture of a young black-crowned night heron late one evening as Isabel carefully monitored the bird under anesthesia. Long, grueling days are the norm for rehabbers during baby season, but I only heard one person complain about sore feet and exhaustion all week (okay—it was me. I was out of practice!).

I want to thank all of the IBR staff and volunteers for letting me follow them around and ask questions. I learned so much from you and truly enjoyed getting to know you!

— Sam





Connecting Our Diverse Network

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Did you know that the OWCN now has 44 Member Organizations? Did you also know that we have greater than 1,300 registered responders? If you answered “Yes”, great job! As a newer member of our team I find the best way to get to know the amazing people that make up the OWCN is to actually meet people and have a chance to connect one on one, or in a small group. So, now ask yourself “how many of those 1,300 responders have you met”?  I can honestly say that over the last year I have probably met about 300 of our 1,300 responders. That being said, one of our goals for the next year is to try and better connect YOU, our responders, with us and each other. Two of the ways to make sure we stay connected is through engagement events and our upcoming Oilapalooza Conference.

LGB Engagement

Attendees of the OWCN Engagement Event at the Aquarium of the Pacific

We recently co-hosted an engagement event with the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. Greater than 20 individuals from 6 Member Organizations in the LA/Long Beach area attended. We had time to network over refreshments, a short presentation, and a great Q & A session. Some of us even had an opportunity to take a quick peak at some of the exhibit animals, including the Magellanic penguins and the American avocet chicks. The OWCN is very grateful to our network partners, such as the Aquarium of the Pacific, for their support in hosting engagement events. We hope to offer similar events throughout the state over the next year or so.

oilapalooza is coming

Oilapalooza is coming up fast! The OWCN Management Team is working hard to plan two fun filled days of lectures, workshops, and networking opportunities.  Similar to 2017, we will hold lectures on October 16th, followed by a networking event at a unique location. October 17th will consist of 1/2 day labs, allowing participants to take advantage of two different opportunities. Currently, we are in the process of working on pre-registration through the Member Organization Primary Contacts. But don’t worry, we will open up the remaining spaces for first-come-first-serve registration at the end of this month, along with additional information regarding the room block and conference specifics. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing you in Arcata, at an upcoming training, engagement, or another event in the near future.

Have a fantastic summer!



Danene Birtell – Readiness Coordinator, OWCN Management Team



Pacific Collaboration or No Walls on This Border


Hello from beautiful British Columbia! Scott and I are attending Clean Pacific this week in Vancouver, BC. The Clean Pacific conference is an annual meeting of the response community of the Western US and Canada. There are a number of regional response conferences like this around the US and Canada each year.

IMG_7459Clean Pacific Beaver

For the OWCN, this meeting brings the opportunity to network with responders up and down the Pacific coast as well as Hawaii. Why is that important you ask? Aren’t we, the California network with our 40+ Member Organizations and 7+ permanent facilities, the model for wildlife response that everyone else aspires to? While it may or may not be true that everyone wants to be the OWCN, that is not the point. If we are something to aspire to a huge reason is that we are always trying to improve and always trying to learn from other people’s experience and perspective as well as our own.

Presentations, workshops, exhibits and networking at an event like Clean Pacific provides opportunities to step outside of our narrow world view as wildlife responders, veterinarians, and rehabilitators and look at the bigger picture challenges of spill response. This allows us to bring back a fresh approach to wildlife response problems. Equipment is a perfect example. The oil spill response industry is very good at equipment. Boom, skimmers, boats, drones, dispersant jet packs – boys and their toys, as some say. But some of these things can repurposed for wildlife response with a little creative thinking. One person’s wastewater tank is another person’s aquatic bird conditioning pool with a little netting spread on top.

The other big benefit gained by being here is the opportunity spread the word about wildlife response and what we believe it takes to do an effective job. This is key in building relationships that will facilitate collaboration if a Deepwater Horizon/Exxon Valdez/Oregon Standard/Union Oil Santa Barbara Channel spill happens on “our” side of the Pacific.  That is why Mike contributes his time to the Clean Pacific Steering Committee, why Scott is chairing the Wildlife Session and why I am speaking about the OWCN system for statewide wildlife response. This talk emphasized how the OWCN is built on our Member Organizations throughout the state, our facilities and equipment caches that are strategically placed, and our recent mobile equipment additions which allow us to provide primary care in remote inland locations when that provides “best achievable care”.

So, this week, Scott and I will be listening, looking, asking questions, and networking with colleagues from industry and governmental trustees and NGO’s aimed at improving wildlife response in California but also in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii. If you ever get the chance to attend one of these “Clean” conferences, I think you might find it very interesting.



Diversify your Summer Fun!


Our beautiful state of California has a bounty of diverse natural wonders, and this summer you can enjoy just some of these by visiting one of our OWCN Member Organizations.  Each Member Organization is unique, but all share unbridled passion for education and protection of our environment, especially our native wildlife.  Check out a collection of opportunities below:

  • Bird Ally X:
    WILD Camp
    Bird Ally X has partnered with Juncos & Junipers (preschool) to offer a WILD Camp for preschool age kids up to 8 years old.  It’s their second year doing it, so check out the flier here –  (Wild camp flier 2019).


  • Golden Gate Audubon Society:
    Osprey Cam
    This site not only has 2 HiDef cameras and is full of Osprey information, but also features a live chat forum, a community science component that allows observers to contribute to real time data collection on fish species and manmade items that the birds are bringing to their nest, and downloadable STEM lessons for educators teaching grades 6 through 12. Click here to view


  • Point Blue Conservation Science:
    Point Blue Conservation Science’s Palomarin Field Station, located in Point Reyes National Seashore, is open to both drop-in visitors and to scheduled groups and classes. Visitors can join their biologists on a hike to check their mist nets for songbirds, watch live bird-banding demonstrations as part of their long-term studies of birds and their habitats, and check out their visitor center. Opportunities are year-round, and in summer banding demonstrations are available six mornings per week (Tuesday through Sunday); visit their website for details.



  • Santa Barbara Zoo:Condor Cam
    Get up close and personal with an endangered California condor chick on this live-streaming nest cam direct from the remote mountains near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge in Ventura County, California. Researchers have named this the “Pole Canyon nest” after its location in the backcountry. The Santa Barbara Zoo is partners with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and Cornell Lab of Ornithology in bringing this Condor Cam to the public.
    Condor Cam is Live, click here to viewFiesta Kicks Off at Digs!
    Fiesta week starts at the Santa Barbara Zoo at Digs! held on Thursday, August 1 from 5 to 10 p.m. One ticket price includes the infamous “DIGS” margaritas, cold beer, tasty regional wines, and delicious food from local restaurants. A fundraiser for the Santa Barbara Zoo and Old Spanish Days. For ages 21+ only, click here for more info.

    Santa Barbara Zoo Camps
    Santa Barbara Zoo’s camps offer children ages 3–12 the opportunity to explore animals and science. Camps will be offered for 10 weeks starting June 10th. There will be traditional zoo camp as well as specialty camps such as Junior Zoo Veterinarian, Junior Zookeeper, Backyard Biologist, STEM Explorers. Check the zoo website for details.


  • The Bird Rescue Center:
    Open Houses Monthly
    BRC holds a free monthly Open House the first Saturday of every month, rain or shine (barring major holidays— if in doubt, give them a call at 707 523-2473). Come on by and meet a few of their resident Raptor Ambassadors. Their intrepid volunteer raptor handlers will be more than happy to introduce you! It’s a wonderful opportunity to see these beautiful wild birds up close — and an unforgettable experience! You may even find yourself wondering how you could learn to handle these amazing birds. Click here for more info.

    Photography of the birds is permitted while maintaining a safe distance and a quiet manner (no waving or sudden noise, please). Note: No photography of the birds while in their mews (aviaries) is allowed.


  • The Marine Mammal Center:
    Summer Visiting Options
    From June 8 to August 25, The Marine Mammal Center will have 45-minute guided tours every day, 3 times a day (11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm)!  They also have a behind-the-scenes Missiles to Medicine experience that will be at 12 pm and 2 pm typically 5 days a week!  If you haven’t had a chance to visit the Center and explore the World’s largest marine mammal hospital, then you should stop by.  They also have numerous Marine Science Sundays this summer, with free presentations and activities on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month.


  • WildCare:
    Wildlife Camp
    Does your inquisitive child love animals? Wildlife Camp is a fun way to stimulate learning about wild animals and instill a life-long respect for nature. Weekly camp programs are designed to captivate, engage and challenge young people, building environmental knowledge and values. Click here for details.We hope you are able to take advantage of some of the

We hope you get the chance to take advantage of these awesome opportunities and interface with our amazing Member Organizations.

The OWCN Management Team