New OWCN-IBR Collaboration Seems Like Old Times

Last month I traveled with Barbara Callahan from OWCN Member Organization International Bird Rescue (IBR) to Baku, Azerbaijan. What made this training especially significant was that this was the first international training project that OWCN and IBR collaborated on as partners from start to finish. Our mission was to help increase the level of preparedness for oiled wildlife response in that country. We were there on behalf of BP, the managing partner of the BTC Pipeline Company. The pipeline runs from south of Baku on the Caspian Sea to the Lesser Caucasus Mountains through Georgia and then to the Ceyhan Terminal in Turkey on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

 

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BTC Pipeline (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan)

City of contrasts (1)

City of contrasts: the old and the new

It was not the first time I had been to this corner of the world, and over the years I have come to appreciate this city of contrasts and of seemingly constant change. Simply looking at the skyline provides evidence of the immense influence of oil on this city and country.

While the OWCN continues to expand within California and along with our Member Organizations, we work to increase our readiness and improve our capacity for spills, we are also seeking opportunities to leverage our knowledge and experience to help other areas of the world as well. Through collaborations as represented with this training, as well as other projects we are involved with, such as the Global Oiled Wildlife Response System, we are working to share our knowledge as well as bring back the experiences of those we meet around the world.

The training in Baku included more than 100 participants from a diversity of NGOs, government agencies and industry (a few if them include the Institute of Geology, the Baku Zoo, the Ministry of Emergency Situations, Baku Veterinary Department, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, the Azerbaijan Society for the Protection of Animals, the Institute of Zoology, BP, State Oil Company of Azerbaijan and many more).  These various groups came together during the training to learn basic concepts of oiled wildlife response and to develop basic plans for setting up a wildlife facility.  The diversity of backgrounds and participant age enriched the discussion with a variety of perspectives, opinions and questions, increasing the learning and enjoyment for us all.

Facility plan team

Developing a facility plan

Facility exercise AZ training

Presenting the plan to the class

The third day was a hands-on field exercise on a windy Caspian Sea beach outside of the city where nearly 50 participants practiced in the capture of birds and mammals, provided first responder aid to captured wildlife, and made decisions on transport to wildlife facilities.

Caspian seal capture AZ exercise

Exercise: Capturing a seal

This training provided everyone, myself included, with a better understanding of what an oiled wildlife response in Azerbaijan would be like. All in all, a very worthwhile endeavor. I hope the OWCN will have more opportunities to collaborate with International Bird Rescue and other organizations to share our collective experiences.  It is only in collaborating and sharing experiences that we can move forward along the never-ending road to best achievable care.

Curt

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.

-Kyra

 

Duck-umentaries!

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!

–Nancy

10 Years Ago This Week…

Game-changing. Transformative. Heartbreaking. Many different words encapsulate the oiled wildlife response during, and readiness improvements subsequent to, the Cosco Busan incident in San Francisco Bay.

From the email wayback machine, 7 Nov 2007 @ 14:08hrs:
“Hi all – Just a quick note. The OWCN was activated this afternoon to respond to an allision of a container ship to the Bay Bridge this morning.  We have dispatched two teams of 2 people…to recon and assess wildlife impacts in the area.  At this point, it appears to be a fairly small spill in terms of volume, but has impacted the area around Pier 39, so public visibility and potential to impact birds and sea lions is moderate.  We are working directly with DFG-OSPR…and will have a better idea of the scope of response that will be needed later this afternoon. Let me know if you have questions or concerns. Thx! Mike”

Little did we know what the next several months of response, not to mention the ensuing decade of changes to readiness protocols, would come from this “fairly small spill”.

Today (8 Nov 2017) marks the 10-year anniversary of the day when oiled birds began to be collected by OWCN staff and volunteers and transported to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center. To honor and remember this event, I have written (and re-written) this blog post three different times – each with different emphases, information, and emotional attachments, as the event still triggers in me a variety of conflicting thoughts even to this day.

My first blog post was aimed to be a more general informational post, describing the event, what happened, the early confusion, why it happened, public reaction, and the resulting response efforts that occurred. However, over the past week there have been many insightful and factually accurate articles detailing this type of information, including a series of posts from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration as well as me providing much of that information in the OWCN Blog on the five-year anniversary, so adding to the mix didn’t seem as valuable as other approaches. Besides, there is always Wikipedia.

My second blog post draft was intended to focus on the OWCN’s wildlife response efforts – the 1,084 live birds (of 31 species), the 1,854 dead birds (of 45 different species ), and the 1 live/6 dead mammals that were collected – as well as the overall impact estimates of, among other effects, more than 6,800 birds killed. However, again, there has been wonderful information provided by CDFW-OSPR, NOAA, and the other Trustees this week detailing the estimated losses and how these resources are being restored. So no reason to reiterate points that have been well told already.

My third draft was designed to highlight all of the changes that occurred within CA oiled wildlife response efforts immediately after Cosco Busan, including the addition of numerous wonderful Member Organizations, the OWCN officially being given the mandate to lead recovery (and later hazing) efforts on behalf of the State, revisions to protocols and procedures, increasing and expanding our pool of trained responders, further improving facilities, and the like. But, again, much of was covered previously by me and others, and, aside from showcasing the fact that the OWCN prides itself on a vigorous self-improvement policy (through active internal and external after-action efforts) after each and every incident, to me it didn’t convey the depth of emotions nor the excellent work of all Network Members.

So that leads me to this, the fourth and final draft of my blog post. I simply want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, each and every person that was involved with the wildlife response efforts that so affected us all 10 years ago in the SF Bay region. Your dedication to improving the lives of injured wildlife during this disaster, especially an incident caused by human error, is awe-inspiring, and the OWCN cannot put into words how much we value your time and involvement. I also wanted to thank the OWCN Management Team staff at UCD (both current as well as past) for taking our responsibility as seriously as I do. Lastly, I wanted to recognize one specific individual, the late Jay Holcomb of International Bird Rescue, for his lifelong dedication to marine birds that was exemplified in this event.

To honor as many people as possible that were involved in this massive undertaking, I have added below a slideshow of all the responders that I was able to photograph during the “33 Days of Oil and Soap” that was so eloquently captured by the late artist (and Cosco volunteer) Doug Ross in his T-shirt design above.

Again, thank you!

-Mike

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After Oilapalooza

14 days ago, at about 5:00pm, we put the bow on the 2017 Oilapalooza. After two full days of networking, learning, and fun, we packed up our gear and waved goodbye to the many spill responders, agency representatives, and topic specialists who took time out of their busy lives to gather together for this event.

Randell during Reception

Zach Randell pauses during the reception to share the Southern Sea Otter tags he has been developing.

It’s always a bittersweet time, coming down from the social high of being among such intelligent and passionate people. Of course, the management team’s work isn’t done, but we have time for a bit of cake, champagne, and camaraderie.

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The OWCN Management Team celebrates a successful Oilapalooza with cake and champagne.

After the packing and travel and a tiny bit of sleep, we start to collect our thoughts, put away our equipment, upload our photos, and dive through the participant feedback we received during the event.

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The answer to one of our feedback questions

 

The Management Team’s final task was a hotwash, which we held this morning. Now we can close the book on the 2017 event and open the one for 2019 (not really, I’ll give everyone a couple days to regroup!).  But before we all move on to other projects, let’s take a moment to reflect on a good times with the extraordinary group of people that make up the oiled wildlife response world, especially those who happened to be able to join us in Monterey two weeks ago. I had a blast and I hope you all did too.

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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

Scott

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.

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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.

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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.

Curt