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!