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: https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2012-329.

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: http://www.discoverwildcare.org/advocacy/wildcare-help-wildlife-harvey/.

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.


OWCN at CalPERS Take Our Sons & Daughters to Work Day

OWCN returned to CalPERS this past June for Take Our Sons & Daughters to Work Day. This event is part of a national public awareness campaign to engage children ages 8-14 in various career opportunities.

The first thing everyone wanted to do was pet the sea otter pelts. Everyone was amazed at how soft they were, and were even more amazed when Tim Williamson (our Facilities Coordinator) explained that sea otter fur is the densest of any animal on earth, with anywhere from 250,000-1 million hairs per square inch!

CalPERS take your kids to work day

On the other side of the OWCN booth, Wildlife Care Specialist Stephanie Herman performed the feather demonstration to teach children about the microscopic structure of feathers and how oil can damage those structures. She showed kids and their parents how feathers are affected when they come into contact with oil, soap, and water. This demo is simple and perfect for helping people visualize just how destructive oil can be.

OWCN loves participating in these types of outreach events, and we are looking forward to tabling again at CalPERS next summer!


Oilapalooza Update

It’s incredible how quickly months can fly. I have a hard time believing that it’s the end of August and we are just 8 weeks away from Oilapalooza. Please excuse me for a moment while I look at my to-do list and quietly hyperventilate…

boat trainingMore seriously, I am absolutely jazzed about this year’s event. I’m pretty sure it’s going to blow your socks right off. We’ll have to have a sock-claiming station at the back of the room. We’ve got some amazing speakers and instructors from 25 different organizations and agencies, including 11 of our very own Member Organizations. There are several never-before-seen workshops planned, including Herptile Capture, Passerine 101, and Terrestrial Mammal 101, as well as encores of the ever-popular On Water Capture and Sea Turtle 101.

Wednesday is also packed with amazing topics, including case studies, post-release study reports, multi-org panels, and exciting lectures such as:

  • Use of Technology for Improving Wildlife Recovery During Spills (Dave Garcelon of Institute for Wildlife Studies)
  • Inland Oil Spills: Species Data and Implications for Wildlife Responders (Jenny Schlieps of Focus Wildlife)
  • Oil-induced Cardiomyopathy in Birds Affected by Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (Kendal Harr of URIKA, LLC)

All of our speakers and workshop instructors work so hard and we’re grateful for their support; this event wouldn’t happen without them. If you happen to run into one in the wild, definitely offer them a hi-five or thumbs-up–they deserve it!

8145059723_30896ecb33_oBack here on the logistics side, the OWCN Management Team is acquiring lab supplies, soliciting exciting prizes for the responder appreciation raffle, and generally trying to keep everything organized. You may hear from us now and again as we get closer to the event, especially if you are a Member Organization Contact.

If you are registered to attend, either as speaker or attendee, I am so looking forward to sharing these two days with you!  A bit of housekeeping: you should have already signed up for the reception and labs by now, but if you haven’t, please get in touch with me ASAP so we can sort that out. Also, though we hope everyone who signed up can make it, remember to let us know if your situation changes before the cancellation deadline, September 27, so we can give your spot to someone on the waitlist.

If you are reading this, super sad because the event is full, don’t forget you can still add yourself to the waitlist until the end of August. If you’re already on the waitlist, hang tight!  Otherwise, if this year didn’t work out for you, we hope to see you at the next one. It’s Oilapaloozas all the way down.

Keep being amazing,





Off to a galaxy far far away…

I generally don’t think much about what I’m going blog about until the deadline is either 6 hours away or 6 hours past and today was no different. I remembered it was my turn to blog when I look at our OWCN shared calendar this morning and saw CC Blog.  I thought about Oilapalooza coming up in October, the Oiled Wildlife Specialist training we are all working to develop content for, next year’s full deployment drill, and a bunch of other things we have been working on stop. But then I thought about something more important than any those things and something it is much easier to write about from the heart: Our team.

I have only been on the OWCN Management Team here at the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center in the One Health Institute in beautiful VM3B on the UC Davis campus for two years, but I have been working with the OWCN team since the beginning.  Though I probably can’t provide first and last names of everyone who has been member of the OWCN team I think I could get pretty close and I have fond memories of working with everyone. It is always hard to see them move on. But Friday will especially hard because it will be the last day for one of the nicest, most consistently cheerful people I have ever worked with – Becky Elias, the OWCN Volunteer Coordinator.

Star wars becky 7 Kyra98186A81-5DE5-4B93-B684-260E6847CA35.JPG

I know we will all dearly miss her smile, her attitude and her efforts for our cause. Becky has worked alongside a full scale model of R2D2 in a cubicle just outside my office since I became an OWCN employee in June 2015. In my mind though, I will always picture her in Tyvek, sitting in a pen in New Zealand, head down and focused on a bird in hand and surrounded by penguins seeking fish. I think that was the first time that I had really worked with her, and I always feel a spill is where you get to know what a person is really like. Becky is someone who works hard behind the scenes to make sure that the little but important things that are the keys to success in a wildlife response are done well. Even a very successful response like Rena is stressful for the people feeding hundreds penguins several times a day.

Becky Penguin Feeding Head down.png

Becky as always up for any task no matter how unpleasant or boring it might seem, or how late the hour. Or at least that is the way I will remember her. When she drives off to Washington state with her family this weekend, it may be the end of the Becky Elias Volunteer Coordinator era here at OWCN but I hope she will come back to lend us a hand when we need her in a spill.

As Alexander Graham Bell said “When one door closes, another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us”. Becky will make it difficult for all of her friends here in Davis and at all of the Member Organizations to not focus on the door which is closing, but I am also eager to see the new door open and I hope you will be as well. But for now, thanks Becky for all that you have done for all of the people who make up the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and from all of those penguins in Rena. You will always be part of the team.


Becky new food prep


Jumping on the Training Bandwagon

OK, so I realize that the last three posts have all been centered around a common theme – training!  But we have one more example to share.  In addition to our international assistance training, our regular California-based OWCN training program, and our unique cross-training opportunities at Oilapalooza, this year we have seen an increase in requests for affiliated agency and partner trainings across the state.


Students practicing their animal handling skills.

In June, Kyra and I traveled down to San Luis Obispo (an area I am biased toward as I grew up there), and provided a 1 day training to engaged staff at Padres Associates, Inc. – an environmental science and geoenvironmental consulting firm.  This group has been hired to work on a local remediation and restoration project in an effort to monitor for and reduce the risk of wildlife impacts from exposed hydrocarbons.  In coordination with the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), Padre Associates developed an Oiled Wildlife Contingency Plan and were interested in a training so that OWCN could provide a more hands-on approach for oiled wildlife deterrence, recovery and transport.

CDFWshieldIn addition to project-specific training requests, over the next few months we will also be delivering some oiled wildlife trainings, with a focus on field operations – hazing, recovery and transport, to our colleagues at OSPR.  Their Field Response Teams (FRTs) are often first on scene during an oil spill in California, and have the tough task of determining if there are any oiled wildlife present, or if any wildlife are at risk of potentially becoming oiled.  That task has become an even greater challenge with the inland expansion, as often the FRTs are responding in remote locations, and have limited local resources available should they need it.  So our goal will be to introduce them to some quick yet effective ideas they can implement in the field to deter wildlife from spill sites and if necessary, safely but efficiently capture oiled wildlife and prepare them for transport.

US-FWS-logoAnd last but not least, our colleagues at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have also requested a day of training in September, so that they too can improve their oiled wildlife skills during response.  Many of the USFWS staff are field biologists, 24hr HAZWOPER certified, and are making a concerted effort to improve their readiness should their efforts be needed in the field during inland responses.

Although our calendar is certainly busy these next few months with training dates, it also serves as a pleasant reminder that we reside in a state full of cooperative, collaborative agencies and organizations, all doing their part in maintaining their readiness should an oil spill occur.

A big thank you to all past and future training participants…successful spill response is a team sport and we can’t do it without you!