Thank You!

Picture1Today, on the eve of Thanksgiving, we give THANKS to all of our Member Organizations, Affiliated Agencies, and collaborators for helping make the Oiled Wildlife Care Network the amazing organization that it is today.  As a network organization, it is the sum of its parts that makes the OWCN whole.  As we all know, California is a big state, and to be ready for an oil spill anywhere in the state, we rely on all our Member Organizations, each with trained personnel and/or facilities to have the ability to respond to an emergency that affects our wildlife.  As the saying goes, “it takes a village”, and in this case that is certainly true.  You all are the Village (with a capital “V”!), and we are ever so thankful.

So as we enter this Thanksgiving holiday, we want to wish you a joyful and memorable time with friends and family.  And since you all are family, know just how grateful we are for each and every one of you.




This past weekend, Greg Frankfurter and I had a wonderful opportunity to learn some new tricks from some of our USGS (United States Geological Service) colleagues who work on Mare Island (near Vallejo, CA). Before getting down to business, Susan De La Cruz showed us around her historic workplace: The Mare Island Transmitter Site for US Radio NPG. During its heyday, it served as one of the main Pacific radio transmitter stations between ships and shore commands. Its seen better days, but is still a fascinating remnant of a bygone era.



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The true purpose of our trip was to meet up with Susan, her team and Paul Gibbons, DVM. Susan’s team uses radiotelemetry to better understand the ecology and movements of waterbirds and applies this information to enhance conservation efforts.

To learn more about radiotelemetry, click on the video below. Note, although I chose this clip because I found it informative, yet amusing, it introduces radiotelemetry using a VHF radio signal. These days Susan’s team relies mostly on transmitters that use signals from satellites, but there is a whole variety of tracking options that exist today.

Dr. Paul has historically provided the veterinary services for the project and thus, Greg, I and another wildlife veterinarian (Maris Brenn-White, DVM) were there to learn about his technique for placing transmitters. Since the ducks decided to outsmart the team by refusing to be interested in the delicious corn placed the inside the live traps, we moved on to plan B…which was to practice using cadavers.



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In the end, it was a successful day for all. And as a bonus, three more veterinarians are trained to help out…should the ducks ever decide to be hungry!


Strength in Numbers

storms-make-trees-take-deeper-roots-11psh28This week has been an emotionally tough one with yet another mass shooting, so I thought I would write today about one of the aspects of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network that not only provides myself with immense pride, but also much needed hope and optimism.

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network is exactly that….a Network of Member Organizations located throughout our beautiful state of California.  We have diversity among us with wildlife rehabilitation organizations, academic and research institutions, scientific organizations, zoological societies and aquaria, environmental organizations, and more.  That diversity broadens our shared perspective and experiences so that we can provide the absolute best achievable capture and care of oiled wildlife.

But while our diversity is a strength that should be encouraged and celebrated, one could argue that our Network’s greatest asset does not lie in the differences among us, but rather our shared passion to protect this planet.  We share a deep compassion for wildlife and nature, balanced with an intense drive and work ethic to actively protect and conserve all of California’s critters. The Network is dependable, collaborative, and an emblem of cohesive teamwork toward the achievement of a shared goal.

IMG_0305And while cooperation and support is overtly evident during spill response, some of the best examples of our shared values, goals and unity come during non-spill times.  For example, earlier this week I stopped by Lindsay Wildlife Experience and was pleased to see that among their fantastic exhibits and resident animal ambassadors, I noticed a traveling educational art exhibit highlighting another OWCN member organization, the Golden Gate Audubon Society.  This beautiful display celebrates their 100th anniversary and shares much of the great work and valiant efforts being done by GGAS to protect our bay area birds.

And beyond this singular example, our Network members lend support to one another on a regular basis.  Whether its our marine mammal rehabilitation organizations taking in some additional patients from overtaxed facilities during an unusual mortality event, delivery of a bird or small mammal from one organization to another for some enhanced species specific care, or simply sending out an email offering up free surplus supplies when the bounty is plentiful, we are all in this together.


So I owe the Network thanks, as its refreshing to see individuals and organizations respect the differences in each other all while connecting to a greater cause.  Keep supporting and being kind to one another.  Let the tough times only serve as fuel for additional good deeds, and remember that “we rise by lifting others” – Robert G. Ingersoll


Please Do Not Disturb!

Last week Kyra blogged about our trip to Ventura to try to recapture Pelican N-12, one of the control birds from the Refugio pelican post-release study. While the satellite telemetry aspects of the project have provided a huge amount of information on these birds, the companion efforts by OWCN and International Bird Rescue to get the public to report sightings of pelicans with green or blue leg bands has also been quite successful.

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Green Banded Pelican. Photo Deborah Jaques

In some areas like Half Moon Bay it has almost become a sport, with individuals and bird- and whale- watching boats constantly on the lookout and trying to get close for a clear photo of the band number. We greatly appreciate everyone who has reported birds and made their contribution to our study, but we also want to remind everyone that getting too close can be harmful not just to the animal you are focusing on but also others nearby. In some cases, like nesting plovers or terns, there are obvious signs to help you avoid disturbing birds.


It may seem like pelicans have an easy life, just sitting on the pier or breakwater all day sunning themselves. Some might even think that getting them to fly a bit is good exercise. But like many wild animals, a pelican’s ability to find food versus their energy expenditures are often very finely balanced. As you can imagine, with a bird as large as a pelican, getting up into the air can take a fair bit of effort. If that effort results in a new fish in the belly or avoiding being injured or killed, I think we would all agree it was worth it. But each time there is an energy cost to each bird. When people, dogs, boats, or anything unfamiliar gets too close, birds will try to move farther away, just like we do when someone we don’t know or don’t like gets right up in our face. And when they are resting and hanging out together in large groups like on a beach or a breakwater, they may fly without a direct threat but just because other birds do.

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Even if they don’t fly, their heightened vigilance may keep them from normal rest or preening activities.


Photo: Bart Selby

A 1997 study “Buffer zone distances to protect foraging and loafing waterbirds from human disturbance in Florida” found that brown pelicans disturbed by a walking human flushed at just under 30 meters, and recommended a buffer of 100 meters for approach on foot. The recommendation for motor boats was 120 meters.

While in some situations it is possible to get closer to wild birds without disturbing them, especially with special techniques or equipment, in most situations it is best to give them plenty of space. Use binoculars, spotting scopes and telephoto lenses to record and report band numbers. As Hippocrates wrote “First Do No Harm”.

And thanks again for keeping an eye out for colored bands.


A Tale of No Captures

Curt and I spent last weekend in Ventura.  As nice as Ventura is, it was not simply a weekend getaway that we were after.  Our purpose was to try to re-capture a Brown Pelican carrying one of our satellite transmitters.  This is one of the birds that we captured two years ago as part of our control group to be able to compare with pelicans that were affected by the Refugio oil spill, cleaned, rehabilitated, and released.

Because the data are uploaded to satellites rather than stored on the device itself, it is not essential to recover the instrument to get the data.  Rather, we wanted to try to remove this tracker because we don’t want to add any extra burden to this bird (even though it looks healthy and the tag and harness don’t seem to be slipping or causing injury).  Also, these nifty gadgets are quite expensive, so being able to remove it means we could potentially re-use it for a future study.


N12, with a view of the harness that helps hold the satellite tag to its back. Picture by Deborah Jaques.

Capturing an animal the first time is usually not a big deal.  Capturing that same animal again can be quite challenging, and on this occasion we were reminded of just that.  Curt and I, along with Deborah Jaques (who is one of the researchers in this study) and Andrew Yamagiwa (from CIES) used a boat to search for this bird along the breakwater and at the bait stations.  We spotted the bird (also known as N12 after her color band which it has since managed to lose), and even tried to lure her in with some tasty fish.  But in the end, and after many hours of attempted capture, we cried “uncle” and admitted defeat.

We will continue to monitor this devious bird for any signs of discomfort that the satellite tag may be causing, and we will try our luck again in a month or so, this time with a few more tricks up our sleeves.

A huge thank you to CIES (California Institute of Environmental Studies) for the use of their zodiac and for their assistance.



IMG_1382Late last week I got on an airplane, early in the morning, headed for Indianapolis to help deliver the third day in a 24-hr HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) course to members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) the day before the AZA Annual Conference began.  This training was a collaboration between the OWCN and the Alaska SeaLife Center, and the goal of these trainings (this was the third one) is to increase the capacity for AZA members to assist during oil spills.

During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, AZA (among other groups), offered to send personnel to assist with the response; however, there was not a system in place that would easily allow these folks to help out.  Since then, there has been more of a concerted effort to get these systems in place before a spill, so that when there is an incident, these highly skilled individuals are able to be looped in to a wildlife response.


Working group discussions during the oil spill drill.

The final part of this training included an oil spill drill, which is always a great chance to test the knowledge in a more realistic situation.  The class was divided up into 3 working groups: a field operations group (which included reconnaissance, hazing, and recovery), a rehabilitation group, and a safety/logistics group. The job of these groups was to work through some of the initial planning priorities and safety concerns, and identify resources that would be needed to carry out a wildlife response.

Franklin-quoteIt was a quick trip half way across the country, but I felt humbled to meet this fine group of professionals and contribute to the lively discussions. It is not only during a spill that we help animals. By investing time and energy into getting better prepared ahead of time, we increase our capacity to hit the ground running when a spill does occur.

– Kyra

Could Hurricane Harvey Happen Here?

While all our hearts go out to the people and animals suffering in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, it’s also natural to wonder whether this type of disaster could occur in our home-state of California?

According to Bill Patzert (NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory oceanographer and climatologist from the California Institute of Technology), the chances are 1 in 1,000. This level of risk matches the 1 in 1000 year rating for the flooding that occurred in Houston and Beaumont, Texas:

According to Patzert, the greatest risk for tropical cyclones (Pacific ocean’s version of a hurricane) affecting California occurs this time of year (September). Powerful cyclones are most likely to form when water temperatures exceed 80 F. It can certainly be a sobering moment when one realizes that these temperatures have been recorded with increasing frequency at multiple California coastal locations during recent El Niño events.

Pacific Ocean water temperatures: Image generated by National Weather Service Environmental Modeling Center

The good news is that with the oil spill planning efforts and training that has taken place thanks to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), our Member Organizations and Affiliated Agencies, if a tropical cyclone hits California, we will be in better shape than many other states to deal with impacts to wildlife. Even now, Member Organizations such as WildCare are sending volunteers (many trained by OWCN) to help in Texas. See this link for more information about WildCare’s efforts:

Squirrel affected by Hurricane Harvey being cared for at the Wildlife Center of Texas: International Fund for Animal Welfare

While just like an oil spill, we all fervently wish that it will never happen, it is comforting to know that the OWCN, our Member Organizations and Affiliated Agencies are prepared to spring into action and relieve suffering when we are needed.