Meeting Member Orgs!

As I drive back up the coast, catching quick glimpses of the beautiful Monterey Bay, I feel extremely appreciative of the opportunities I’ve had during the past two weeks. Not only have I gotten to work with a collection of cool species, but I have also met and worked with an assortment of amazing people.

Last week, I had the great pleasure of spending some time at our nearest member organization, International Bird Rescue, at the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC). There, I met several staff members and volunteers, and got to put my bird handling skills to use. I assisted with exams on pelicans, murres, gulls, and a great blue heron, among others, as well as helped with feeds and learned the general flow of the hospital. It was wonderful to work with and get to know such a talented and dedicated group of people.

This week, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA), I had the good fortune of working with MBA veterinary staff and volunteers, along with a variety of veterinarians, technicians, researchers, staff, and volunteers from other institutions, including The Marine Mammal Center, US Fish and Wildlife, the Seattle Aquarium, and Long Beach Aquarium. We all came to learn sea otter restraint, anesthesia, and sampling techniques. It was incredible to learn from experts in the field and to work with so many organizations in the process.

The collaboration and generosity demonstrated by these institutions is truly inspiring and at the same time absolutely essential to helping these species that we all care so much about. And this is exactly what the Oiled Wildlife Care Network is all about- sharing knowledge among members and working together to improve our ability to care for animals both before and during spills!



Performing an ultrasound examination of a rehabilitating sea otter to check for pregnancy (especially intriguing for me as I am 8.5 months pregnant myself!)

We built this City…

Our inland preparedness efforts continue, as we have received over the last few weeks three additional trailers as well as a large order of Western Shelters which enable us to set up mobile operations just about anywhere a spill may occur.

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In case you’re asking yourself, what the heck is a Western Shelter, below are images of the two different models we have in our inventory.  After last week’s delivery, we now have a grand total of six 19′ x 35′ shelters and four 20′ domes.

And if you’d like a sneak peek into a potential layout example for our response operations, Curt Clumpner, our Deputy Director of Care Operations, threw together the diagram below.

WesternShelter Layout ExampleAs you can see, having an arsenal of modular mobile shelters allows us to adjust our mobile operations setup based on the specific scenario of each unique spill throughout the beautiful state of California.

We have made a lot of progress labeling and organizing the new equipment. As soon as the team recovers from their sore muscles we will continue the journey.

~Readiness Operations


Working with Partners and Pinnipeds on San Miguel Island

Last week I had the opportunity to work alongside the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and people from a host of organizations, including some of our OWCN members from The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC). In total, 12 of us went out to San Miguel Island to help with a long-term population monitoring study of California sea lions and northern fur seals.


Seals and Sea Lions at Sunset on the San Miguel Island Rookery

San Miguel Island is the furthest west of the Channel Islands, located 40 miles southwest of Santa Barbara. It’s home to one of the largest California sea lion rookeries, with tens of thousands of breeding animals returning yearly to the island. It’s also an important fur seal breeding area. While our work focused on these two species, all the regular pinniped visitors to California can be found here as well, including tons (which admittedly can be just 1 animal) northern elephant seals, harbor seals, Guadalupe fur seals, and even the occasional Steller sea lion. Some breed here, while others just stop by for a nap on their way through.


Northern Fur Seals hauled out at the San Miguel Rookery

As someone who works in spill preparedness, the location of this rich diversity along the western side of the Santa Barbara Channel always gives me pause. It is in the shadow of oil platforms, and near the site of the 2015 Refugio Oil Spill. A spill at the wrong time of the year out there could have serious impacts on birds and marine mammals. Thankfully I wasn’t out there to respond to a spill.

Every fall the biologists of the NMFS California Current Ecosystems Program lead the


California Sea Lion Pups

effort to tag hundreds of California sea lion and northern fur seal pups, and take samples to look for disease and health markers. Through this, and with a lot of number crunching, they are able to monitor the health of the population (and other environmental impacts). I was lucky enough to go out this year and help assess and tag the animals. Overall it seemed like a good year for the pups (at least subjectively. We’ll have to wait for NMFS to crunch the numbers) with some nice fat happy looking animals out there.



Dr. Emily Whitmer, TMMC Veterinary Intern and Former OWCN Employee definitely carried her weight out there.

A number of other projects were discussed including spill response, disentanglement work, endangered species management and the best way to cook venison (it can’t all be work right?).

It was great to contribute to this important study and to see healthy seals and sea lions in the wild. It was also a chance to interact with other biologists, veterinarians, and researchers who work with these species. Additionally, we trained some new people on handling, tagging, and sampling techniques. Hopefully they’ll never be needed in a spill, but it’s great to know there are more people out there that can help.




A Farewell

oroville 2014 SH, KMP, NA

My first time driving a boat was here with the OWCN!

I am both sad and excited to share with you the news that after 5 years serving on the OWCN Management Team as your Oiled Wildlife Care Specialist, I have accepted a new position as the manager of the Audubon Society of Portland’s Wildlife Care Center. I am very excited for this new opportunity, of course, though I can’t help but be sad to leave all of you.

When I joined the OWCN Management Team, I hoped to make a difference for wildlife and wildlife workers in this state. What I didn’t know was how impactful this program would be on my life.  Because of this job and all of you, I’ve grown enormously personally and professionally, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with amazing people from so many different backgrounds.  I’m proud of the work we’ve done together, from responses like Refugio to new endeavors like the

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My favorite part of the whole job – learning & teaching!

Responder Database, to old traditions like Oilapalooza. I’ll always care deeply about this program and the Network, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here as new staff step in to coordinate on your behalf.

California is truly unique, particularly in the number and diversity of programs that care for animals and the environment, and also in how collaborative and communicative those programs are. It is the kind of community that takes decades of investment to grow, and once you experience it you don’t shake it off easily.  So you know I’ll be watching from afar, looking for partnership opportunities to increase care and response capacity for all animals in need. You’ll never get rid of me completely!

Take care,


A Timely Drill for an Untimely Spill

Last week, on September 14th at 08:34am, OWCN was alerted to a semi-truck tanker that had overturned on highway 70. Its tank was punctured, causing the release of approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 1,000 gallons of gasoline. The spill was not yet stopped or contained, and the fuel was said to be making its way towards the Feather River.

Luckily, we had just the drill under our belts for such a spill! Our full deployment drill in March 2017 took place in Quincy, CA along the Feather River, only a few miles away from the spill. This was our first inland wildlife response drill to take place since the expansion of the OWCN’s mandate to cover all California surface waters back in 2015. Sixteen member organizations participated, working through the unique challenges posed by inland spills, such as the wide variety of potential species affected, which might include anything from amphibians and reptiles, to raptors or songbirds, or rodents, mustelids, and other mammals. The drill provided an excellent learning tool for the operational and technical issues involved, and since then we have been working hard on getting species-specific care protocols together as well.

With amphibian and reptile protocols already completed, we are now well underway with the next group, the semi-aquatic mammals: beavers, river otters, and muskrats. These species spend a significant proportion of their lives in river environments and are thus at high risk during a river spill. As I formulate the care protocols for these species, I have not only had the pleasure of connecting and consulting with several experts in the field, but I have also learned quite the slew of interesting facts!

For example, did you know that a beaver’s front teeth are actually located OUTSIDE of their mouths? So that they can chew and swim at the same time without getting water in their mouths? Or that they can recognize a sibling born years apart from themselves that they have never even met before (note: the fancy term for this is “kin recognition by phenotype matching”)? And finally, did you know that beavers secrete a substance called castoreum from their castor sacs that has been used in vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry artificial flavorings? Although exceedingly rare in foods these days, castoreum does still have a significant market for use in the perfume industry. I’m not sure that this last fact will be especially helpful in terms of caring for beavers during a spill, but it has been quite rewarding learning about how fascinating these animals are!

As for the Feather River spill, fortunately, within only a few hours of the notification, it had been contained, with no wildlife affected. As we continue with protocol formulation and plan our next full deployment drill, we know that we will be well prepared when the time does come for another inland response.




Readiness Revealed…

“The Times They Are A-Changin” – Bob Dylan

If you attended Oilapalooza last October you may have been introduced to the concept of adding a third stream to the OWCN Managment Team. Historically, the team was divided into two streams, Care Operations, and Field Operations. The vision of a third stream, Readiness Operations, came to fruition earlier this year and by June the Readiness stream began to evolve from a concept into a functional unit within the OWCN Managment team.


Current OWCN Management Team Structure

Soon after Danene Birtell arrived our team doubled in size when Tim Williamson, Facilities Specialist, moved over to Readiness. Finally, to round out our stream Scott Buhl transitioned from Field Operations Specialist to Responder Specialist (formerly Volunteer Coordinator). We are excited to have Scott fill this role as it aligns well with his previous experience and his passion for personnel management. Now, you’re probably asking yourself “what is readiness going to be responsible for?” Well, after a very productive visioning session we determined that there will be five functional areas in the readiness stream: Responder Management, Public Outreach, Training, Equipment & Supplies, and Network Engagement.

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The Five Functional Areas of Readiness

Now that we have our areas of focus we’ve been hard at work on many projects, including pushing the limits of Excel spreadsheet size and developing a Trello board to help us track our tasks. We have even created a team new acronym, PPS, which stands for Preparation, People, and Stuff. There is a lot of work to be done, but we are READY! We look forward to interacting with many of you at some of our upcoming engagement events or a training in the near future. In the meantime, we will be blogging regularly and will keep you up to date on all the new and exciting things Readiness is working on.

Until next time,

Danene, Scott, and Tim, a.k.a. the Readiness Renegades

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Strategic Planning & Playing

Last Tuesday (August 28th), OWCN staff spent the morning and early afternoon working hard to create a structure to guide our Strategic Visioning for the future. We considered our current mission, vision and core values. Then in true Hot Wash style, we identified the plusses and deltas, explored them and developed the unifying themes. The purpose of these initial activities was to set the stage for a broader strategic planning effort that will continue into 2019.

OWCN Strategic Visioning

Then we headed to Old Sacramento, divided into our three streams (Field Fanatics, Care Crazies and Readiness Renegades) for some good old Team & Creativity Building exercises. I’ll let the inventive shenanigans speak for themselves.

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We look forward to being creative with all of you as our team mates at future trainings, drills and spills…Although we always keep out fingers crossed that it will be a long time before the next large spill!