OWCN in the Classroom

OWCN staff in front of Davis High School sign

Scott and Jennie visit Davis Senior High School. 

It’s no surprise that educational outreach is an important part of OWCN activities, given our affiliation with UC Davis. OWCN management staff recently visited four K-12 classrooms in Davis, sharing the impact of oil on wildlife and the environment, the role of OWCN in responding to a spill, and perhaps an obligatory cute otter photo.

Students listen to presentation

Scott discusses the impact of various oil products on wildlife.

Responder specialist, Scott Buhl, gave a presentation at Davis Senior High School as part of an Earth Day speaker series in teacher Sherri Sandberg’s Chemistry in the Community course. The series was organized by two student clubs, RISE (Recycling is Simply Elementary) and the Environment Club. Despite the presentation being optional and during the lunch hour, more than 30 students attended.

Putting himself in the student mindset, Scott described the challenges of maintaining a constant state of readiness for a spill, saying, “It’s like preparing for a test every day. We’re always trying to improve.”

Scott fielded several questions after the presentation, including how often spills happen, how long responders stay at a spill site, and what students could do to get involved.

“The classroom was filled with environmentally conscious and inquisitive students who spent their lunch break eager to learn about oiled wildlife response,” said Scott. “Our visit left me motivated and impressed about the power of the next generation.”

OWCN staff in front of Da Vinci sign

Kyra and Jennie visit Da Vinci Junior High.

Kyra Mills, deputy director of field operations, and Jennie Hawkins, field operations specialist, visited three 7th grade science classes at Da Vinci Junior High in Davis. During the presentation, students learned how sea otters rely on their fur, rather than blubber, to stay warm in cold ocean waters, and how oil compromises that ability. Students had an opportunity to touch a sea otter pelt to understand its fur density (from 250,000 to 1 million hairs per square inch!) first hand.

Kyra explained that a key responsibility of the field operations team during a spill is to observe an animal’s behavior to determine if it has been affected. Bringing that lesson to life, students were formed into four-to-five member “field ops” teams. Each team received a pair of binoculars and a clipboard with a survey log, and then headed outside to a nearby lawn to “observe” a variety of animal displays and identify whether they were oiled or not.

Student uses binoculars to look at otter picture.

A student uses binoculars to identify an otter “in the wild.” 

“We just finished a project on ecology and endangered species, and our next project is on natural resources, so this presentation and exercise fits in perfectly,” said Da Vinci science teacher Sean Glantz.

Survey log

A completed survey log.

What’s next for OWCN K-12 outreach? We’ve got a full schedule, including a spill drill exercise with an undergraduate One Health club at Cal Poly-SLO, a booth at Bird Day LA, State Scientist Day at the State Capitol, a visit to an elementary school and a Take our Sons and Daughters to Work Day event in Sacramento. Plans for new educational activities and teacher resources are also in the works. Stay tuned on the blog for updates, and in the meantime, learn more about how we reach out to students, the public and scientific communities.

— Kristin




Effigy “patient” in bird box with Animal Collection Tag

Last week, OWCN hosted the annual Full Deployment Drill (FDD). The FDD is our opportunity to test out our readiness, put our equipment to work, and figure out ways to further improve our spill response efforts. This year, the FDD involved a theoretical oil spill in the San Francisco Bay near the northeast corner of Angel Island, in which 140,000 gallons of a mixture of diesel and bunker C oil were spilled due to a collision between two vessels. Staff and volunteers were called in to fill responder roles during this two-day drill, and the “controllers” (those that created the drill scenario) supplied us with bird boxes containing effigy patients and patient info cards including capture location, weight, body condition, temperature, clinical signs, and oiling status. While responders carried out “routine” wildlife recovery, field stabilization, transportation, intake, processing, and pre-wash care procedures for the effigies, the controllers enhanced our drill experience by throwing “injects” at us. These injects were bonus issues or problems to which we had to respond, in addition to managing the chaos of the other aspects of our roles. All in all, the drill was challenging, enlightening, and even fun. To better elucidate some of these experiences, here are some excerpts from our three “newbie” staff:

Newbie #1, Sam, Care Strike Team Leader (Shadow)

“As kids we learned that it takes practice to be good at something. You want to make the varsity softball team? Practice your swing in the batting cage. You want to teach your puppy to play fetch? Bring your tennis ball (and your patience) out to the backyard and practice! You want to help pull off a successful wildlife response during an oil spill? Attend the OWCN Full Deployment Drill! This year’s FDD was my first and now I can see why it’s often referred to as our most valuable event of the year. Having facilities and supplies is great. Having trained responders is amazing. Having an opportunity to bring them together without the stress of a real disaster is invaluable! The FDD lets us try out new technology, communication systems, and for many–new roles. Many of us have taken the basic Incident Command System courses, but far fewer of us have seen ICS in action. For this year’s drill, I had the opportunity to shadow another experienced responder, Michelle Bellizzi from International Bird Rescue, who assumed the role of Care Strike Team Leader (CSTL). The CSTL is responsible for supervising the care of animals within the Primary Care Facility, which in this drill was the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center (SFBOWCEC). Michelle and I were constantly on the move while we worked with the Response Veterinarian (Dr. Lorraine Barbosa) and the Intake, Pre-wash Care, Cleaning, and Conditioning Area Coordinators to ensure that things ran smoothly in the Facility. Just like in a real spill, animals (effigies) moved through the phases of rehabilitation in real time. We troubleshot injects from the drill controllers such as a sudden loss of WiFi, responder injuries, and infectious disease hazards. Michelle and I spent the majority of the drill within the cold and warm zones as we coordinated with our care teams. This was new to me. In the past I’ve always been donned in PPE from head to toe as part of an intake, wash, or field team. It’s a bit of an adjustment to take a step back from the hands-on animal care aspect of wildlife response, but I really enjoyed being able to engage with and support all of the care areas. Shadowing someone during a drill is an excellent way to get familiar with new responsibilities. We’re looking at including additional shadowing opportunities in next year’s FDD to help prepare more responders for area coordinator positions.”

Newbie #2, Jennie, Transport Coordinator

“Coming from a non-oil spill background, the FDD was a whole new ball game, and a very unique learning experience. In the days leading up to the drill, there were only a few things I knew: I was going to play the role of Transport Coordinator, we had one first responder team and a few wildlife recovery teams, and we would be staged at the OSPR Office in Fairfield. The rest? All in the hands of the controllers. Which, in a way, was the best part about the drill! I never knew what was coming next, and they really kept me on my toes. Luckily for me though, the controllers did an excellent job at not only keeping me busy but helping me learn as much as possible along the way. As Transport Coordinator, it was my job to coordinate the transport of the animals between the field recovery teams, Field Stabilization sites, and the Primary Care Facility. Which, as you can probably imagine, required lots of phone calls, text messages, and some major strategic planning. Especially because of the number of animals we had, the fact that they were spread out over so many different sites, and the fact that I had only one transporter to do it all! On top of that, I had injects thrown at me left and right by the controllers, which actually made things quite exciting. Particularly when one of the birds that was being transported escaped its box and became loose inside the vehicle en route to the Primary Care Facility, and when my transport driver theoretically locked the keys inside the vehicle! However, with the guidance of the Wildlife Recovery Group Supervisor, the Field Stabilization Group Supervisor, Field Stabilization Staff, my wonderful transport driver, and my handy dandy Transport Coordinator Guide, we made it work! It might have been a two-day whirl wind, but I’m already looking forward to whatever challenges the controllers come up with for next year!”

Newbie #3, Lorraine, Response Veterinarian

“We received our spill notification at 07:49 on Tuesday. We had a team meeting at 08:30, and within four hours, we were fully packed and headed out to SFBOWCEC to set up our Primary Care Facility. Drill staff were hired and by the afternoon I was working with our Care Operations Specialist (Sam Christie), IBR’s staff veterinarian (Becky Duerr), IBR’s Response Services Manager (Michelle Bellizzi), and SFBOWCEC’s Wildlife Center Manager (Isabel Luevano) to create a patient exam, fluid, nutrition, and triage plan. Shortly thereafter we received our first two WEGR (Western Grebe) patients, assessed and settled them in for the night, and I headed home to write up the protocols for the next day. At 07:00 on Wednesday morning, we oriented our volunteers and prepped the Intake and Pre-wash Care rooms for patients. Just when I was feeling almost prepared, I received my first inject: ‘The USDA CDFA is requesting a written protocol for preventing introduction and spread of velogenic Newcastle Disease (vND) in your facility.’ At almost the same moment, one of our two patients from the night before was found in respiratory distress and having neurological signs. As soon as Becky and I assessed the bird and came up with a plan, I doffed (removed) my Tyvek and ran to the office to type out a vND protocol. Meanwhile, 10 more birds, including one DCCO (Double-crested cormorant) arrived at the Facility and the Processing and Intake teams were working furiously to get them logged, triaged, and treated. After donning (putting on) and doffing my Tyvek what felt like at least 10 more times, I met with a USDA representative who notified me that any cormorants we took in would need to be quarantined. Cormorants are a species known to be susceptible to large vND outbreaks, and the USDA wanted to be extra cautious given the (actual) recent case of vND in the area. It quickly became a game of ‘figure out which birds had been exposed to the cormorant so that we could quarantine them too.’ We identified six birds exposed to the cormorant, and after working with the Pre-wash Care team to designate a quarantine area, I doffed my Tyvek once again and ran to the office to research river otter sedation protocols for the oiled river otter mother and three pups that had just arrived. Meanwhile, an oiled tiger salamander arrived (an endangered species), and, donning my Tyvek again, we went in search of an appropriate amphibian enclosure. Other injects included a staff veterinarian getting stabbed by a needle and having to go to the doctor, a volunteer dropping a tray of blood tubes and us having to re-draw blood from six birds, a volunteer being bitten by a river otter and having to go to the emergency room, and well, you get the idea. And this was all before 2pm! Overall, the pace was quick, the vibe was efficient yet supportive and kind, and the injects and drill scenario were very realistic. Although we can’t ever be completely prepared for any situation, I definitely felt this drill helped me to better understand my role and be as prepared as possible.”

As first-timers experiencing the FDD, it was great to see everyone come together from so many different organizations, backgrounds, and experience levels to work cooperatively toward achieving our collective goals of recovering, transporting, and caring for the animals in the best way possible. We feel lucky to be a part of such a great team and look forward to next year’s drill!



Wildlife Recovery Staging Area and Field Stabilization Site



Wildlife Recovery and Transport teams discussing animal transport


Processing team

Processing team logging animals


LBarbosa and WMassey_FDD

Intake team examining a patient



Intake team filling out OWCN Oiled Bird Intake Form

The Secret Life of Sea Turtles

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Advanced Sea Turtle Necropsy Workshop held at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. The goal of the workshop was to build capacity for sea turtle response within the West Coast Region for NOAA/NMFS Stranding Network partners. The lectures and lab were funded by a grant that Dr. Heather Harris was awarded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Ocean Health Initiative.

Attendees of the Advanced Sea Turtle Necropsy Workshop: Photo by Heather Harris

Dr. Harris put together an outstanding meeting where professionals interested in the welfare of sea turtles gathered from all over the United States, Canada and Mexico to network, share cutting edge information and practice new skills. On Day 1, we learned more about the secret lives of sea turtles through lectures that highlighted recent discoveries. Some of the topics included:

  • Where do sea turtles forage?
  • How do they travel from place to place?
  • How and where do they get into trouble?

Learning about the secret life of sea turtles

In the afternoon, Dr. Brian Stacy, National Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Coordinator, provided us with the latest innovative techniques to gain the most information from sea turtles that die at sea or that strand alive, but are too sick or injured to be saved by sea turtle rehabilitation organizations. The most useful information is obtained by performing thorough necropsy exams. A necropsy is an autopsy performed on a dead animal. The goal of these exams is to learn as much as possible from deceased sea turtles in order to save more live turtles.

Learning to learn more from each sea turtle

On Day 2, we put everything that we learned on Day 1 to the test by performing full necropsies on several dead, stranded sea turtles. While some turtles died from “natural causes” such as cold stunning from inadvertently swimming in waters that unexpectedly became too cold, most of the deaths were caused by a variety of human interactions such as entanglement in fishing gear, strikes with boat propellers and intestinal obstruction after eating plastic.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Even though it is scary to think about all the dangers that sea turtles must avoid on a daily basis, it is reassuring to know that there are so many dedicated professionals working hard to save them. Along with my Oiled Wildlife Care Network colleagues, I am so grateful that we have the opportunity to work with and rely on our Affiliated Agency and Member Organization personnel to help protect California wildlife. If you want to learn more about what you can do to help save sea turtles, click here. It takes a village!


Hosting the GOWRS meeting

This week, the OWCN management team and member organization International Bird Rescue are pleased to host the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) for a series of meetings, activities and planning.

GOWRS partners and OWCN staff at the boneyard facility.

GOWRS partners and OWCN management team members at UC Davis. (Richard Thompson/RSPCA)

A collaborative project comprising 11 partner organizations, GOWRS is working to raise the level of oiled wildlife readiness and response and care worldwide. Among its objectives: develop a governance system for the notification and mobilization of international wildlife response resources during large oil spills and establish international standards of animal care. GOWRS also aims to help build or expand response networks in regions that don’t have the capacity to respond to animals in distress.

Group of people around a meeting table listening to a presenter.

Adam Grogan, RSPCA, leading a governance discussion with GOWRS partners at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. (OWCN)

Facilitated by the Sea Alarm Foundation (Belgium), GOWRS meets twice a year in alternating locations. This was the project’s first visit to California. In addition to SAF, OWCN and IBR leadership, attendees included representatives from Massey University (New Zealand), RSPCA (UK), Aiuka (Brazil), Focus Wildlife (WA state and Canada), PRO Bird (Germany), SANCCOB (South Africa), Tri-State Bird Rescue (Delaware) and WRCO (Belgium).

“This is an entity that brings in new ideas from all around the world,” said Curt Clumpner, OWCN deputy director of animal care operations. “Learning how one another’s organizations approach different kinds of problems and care for different species makes us all stronger as a global response system and as individual organizations.”

Among the week’s agenda items: discussion of governance issues critical to efficient emergency response built on trust and teamwork, tabletop readiness exercises for spill scenarios occurring in Malaysia, Denmark and Kazakhstan, meeting OWCN management and IBR staff, and taking tours of the OWCN “boneyard’ equipment facility and the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center managed by IBR. Chevron and ExxonMobil representatives from GOWR’s Industry Advisory Group will join meetings on Friday.

Viewing the inside of a response trailer.

During the visit, GOWRS partners took a tour of the OWCN “boneyard” where response equipment is stored, from trailers to Tyvek, and tents and nets. This is the inside of our MASH—Mobile Animal Stabilization Hospital. (OWCN)

As you might imagine, many of the representatives are fanatical birders. So fittingly, the visit will come to a close with a pelagic birding trip out of Half Moon Bay, a small coastal city about 25 miles south of San Francisco. GOWRS will meet next in the fall.

— Kristin

Full Stream Ahead!

Hey there! I’m Sam—the newest member of the OWCN management team. I joined the team in February as the Wildlife Care Specialist. For the first time since last fall, our Care Operations stream, as well as the rest of the OWCN management team, is fully staffed! Our 2019 team is the largest in the network’s history with 12 response staff, 5 support staff, 43 member organizations, and over 1,300 registered responders. I am honored to be joining all of you in protecting California’s wildlife — especially today — California Wildlife Day.

I entered this field back in 2010 when I did a summer rehab internship while earning my bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Delaware. Since then, I’ve worked in bird rehabilitation clinics in Delaware, Hawaiʻi, and Idaho. I spent three years with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, Inc.’s Oil Program responding to and preparing for spills along the East Coast and inland. Most recently, I was the Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager at the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center. I’ve had the privilege of washing a wide variety of species over the years — each with their own distinct challenges — from silent salamanders to shrieking tropicbirds (imagine standing next to a blaring car alarm).


Sam kayaking in her home state of New Jersey

While I’m not new to the world of oiled wildlife response, I’ll always have plenty more to learn! I’ve been taking advantage of all the OWCN webinars on www.myvolunteerpage.com. I also attended the Basic Responder Training at the Estuary and Ocean Science Center and took last week’s 24-hour HAZWOPER class at The Marine Mammal Center.

When I’m not at work, my family and I enjoy fostering shelter pets, kayaking, and adventuring with our leash-trained cat, Atlas, who is an ambassador for the American Bird Conservancy.

I’m looking forward to visiting other member orgs and meeting more of you in the near future!

— Sam


Sam and Atlas the adventure cat on the Big Island



And the next Oilapalooza will be – wait for it…

Scott, Greg, and I are on our way back from the latest Basic Responder Training at the Marine Wildlife Care Center, located on Humboldt State University’s campus in Arcata. The last time I was in Arcata was nearly 20 years ago for the predecessor of the BRT, which was called Advanced Supervisors Training. Interestingly, this was the first time I met Greg. We only know this because of photographic evidence – neither of us actually remembers meeting each other, but we have actually known each since 2001, not 2010.

The Basic Responder Training brought in members from Shasta Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Humboldt State University, and a strong showing from Bird Ally X @ Humboldt Wildlife Care Center. We actually have a lot of Network members in this region. We had the chance to visit the Humboldt Wildlife Care Center and check out the new location of the Institute for Wildlife Studies – one of our hazing and collection Network members that is also based in Arcata.


I forgot just how much is happening in this area, and just how beautiful it is. The drive up through the redwoods was stunning. We arrived early the day before the BRT, which gave us plenty of time to check out the incredible facilities of our hotel – the Best Western Plus, Humboldt Bay Inn located in Eureka – which has a solarium with a pool table, a swimming-pool-sized hot tub with a waterfall, and tikki bar with fire pits. Just a couple blocks away is old town Eureka, which has an incredible food Co-op and a lot of great restaurants.

You may be wondering right about now why I’m rambling about hotels and towns in this distant refuge behind the redwood curtain. That’s because this is where we’ll be hosting the next Oilapalooza, this October 16-17th!!! With the improved highways and direct flights from LA, access to this beautiful destination will be much easier for all of our member organizations.

As if the Network partners, natural beauty, and incredible wildlife (not to mention the spill history) of this region weren’t enough, we’ve already started planning for some incredible workshops, lectures, and hands-on experiences. Stay tuned for more on that. For now, save the date: October 16-17th2019. Additional information and registration details coming soon.

oilapalooza is coming

Hope to see some of you in Humboldt County!!

~ Danene


Danene Birtell – OWCN Readiness Coordinator





Basic Responder Training in the San Francisco Bay Area

On Monday, members of the OWCN management team led a Basic Responder Training (BRT) in Tiburon, California, at the Estuary and Ocean Science Center, a research and service organization of San Francisco State University.

BRT attendees represented OWCN member organizations from across the Bay Area, including the EOS Center, The Marine Mammal Center, Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, the SPCA for Monterey County, Lindsay Wildlife Experience and the Greater Farallones Association. Newly hired OWCN management staff also participated.

View from the training of the San Francisco Bay

Our view of the San Francisco Bay during training.

After enjoying coffee and a beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay, the 22 BRT attendees focused on the objective of the day: Learn the core concepts and fundamental skills needed for oil spill response.

While participants already have established skills in animal care and previously completed the OWCN Core Webinar series providing basic information on oil spill response, BRT gives them the opportunity to walk through the response process firsthand and learn their roles in various spill settings.

“After this training, the volunteers are better equipped to jump in and help us respond to a spill immediately,” said Scott Buhl, OWCN responder specialist, who helped lead the training.

Basic Responder Training participants

The all-day event included sessions on human safety, animal handling and restraint, documentation, and the importance of resiliency — recognizing the need for self-care during chaotic emergency response. Participants also took part in spill response role-playing scenarios and a personal protective equipment (PPE) exercise.

By day’s end, attendees are considered “pre-trained volunteers.” When there is a spill, they are among the first to be called to help.

Basic Responder Training is offered five-to-six times a year throughout the state. Our next BRT event will be held March 12 in Arcata at Humboldt State University’s Marine Wildlife Care Center.

Thank you to the Estuary and Ocean Science Center for hosting this training, and for providing caffeine and sustenance to fuel our day!

– Kristin