Every Bird Matters
news and views from international bird rescue

Oil Spill Response

March 14, 2018

2018 –Ventura Oil Seep Response

Photo of oiled seabird called a Western Grebe beiung washed at International Bird Rescue.

An oiled Western Grebe, a seabird that spends the majority of its life in open ocean, gets cleaned of natural oil seep at Bird Rescue’s Los Angeles Wildlife Center.

By Kylie Clatterbuck, Los Angeles Wildlife Center Manager

Late last month International Bird Rescue received the news that our friends at Santa Barbara Wildlife (SBW) were seeing an unusually large number of beached oiled birds along the coast near Ventura Harbor.  Oiled birds can be a common occurrence this time of year due to the ocean’s natural oil seeps and the migrating birds who overwinter in Southern California waters. However by the end of February 2018,  there were at least 11 live oiled Western Grebes captured during search and collection.

A Western Grebe rests on net bottom caging awaiting cleaning of natural oil seep .

To ensure that we were dealing with natural oil seep, rather than an oil spill, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) was notified and transport was arranged to bring the birds down to Bird Rescue for evidence collection and primary care. In total, Bird Rescue received 18 oiled over the course of three days.

When working with oiled wildlife, samples are collected from each bird for chemical “fingerprinting” by the Petroleum Chemistry Lab of the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife; it was determined that the oil was in fact from a natural seep. Natural oil seep is common along the Southern California Coast and acts much like spilled oil.

Western Grebes spend the entirety of their lives in water, propelling themselves with their feet to hunt for fish. When a bird becomes oiled, it’s feather structure is compromised leaving them unable to remain waterproof, maintain internal temperature, or hunt for food. They also can sustain secondary injuries and burns as a result and will die unless rescued and the oil cleaned off by trained personnel.

When we received these birds, many of them were in poor body condition, extremely dehydrated, and heavily oiled. Medically stabilizing these birds before putting them through an extensive and stressful wash process is incredibly important. By giving the birds nutritional tube feedings and a warm environment, we were able to improve their condition quickly and wash the oil off within a few days of admittance. But that’s just the beginning…

The days after wash are spent tirelessly giving the birds access to water, assessing their waterproofing, and aiding the birds while drying any wet areas still remaining post wash. It’s a lot of work for the staff, but it’s even more work for the birds who need to preen their feathers all while living under the stress of an alien environment. These are wild animals that are affected by the stressors of human interaction, noise, and simply being out of water for several days.

After two weeks, we’re happy to report that most of the birds are already waterproof and living in one of our large pools! We will now be working on conditioning these birds for release back into the wild by improving their body condition and treating any injuries/wounds they may have acquired during the ordeal of becoming oiled.

Volunteer Mary Test helps intake nearly 20 oiled seabirds covered in natural oil seep from Ventura, CA.

Freshly washed of oil, Western Grebes are moved to the outdoor pelagic pools at the center located in San Pedro, CA.


June 2, 2015

2015 – Refugio Pipeline Spill


Ray of Hope In A Sea Of Dread: Washed,
Clean Brown Pelicans in Outdoor Aviary



After being cleaned of oil, Brown Pelicans recuperate in an outside aviary (above) at our San Pedro, CA center. Photos by Kylie Clatterbuck

Two weeks after oiled seabirds from the Refugio Oil Incident began arriving into our San Pedro Center, many have been washed and are now recuperating in two large outside bird aviaries.

Most of the birds in care are California Brown Pelicans. These are majestic birds with a height of more than 4 feet, weighing upwards of 11 pounds (5000 g) and with a wingspan 6+ feet.

At least 40 Brown Pelicans are in care and upwards of 36 have been washed of the oil that coated their wings after a pipeline burst at Refugio State Beach on May 19th.

Other bird species in care include Western Gulls, Western Grebes, Common Murres, a Surf Scoter, and a Pacific Loon.

As of Wednesday night, June 3, search and collection teams have rescued 58 live birds and 42 live marine mammals. Dead animals collected included 115 seabirds and 58 mammals.

Oil has severe and delirious effect on a bird’s feathers. It mats feathers & separates the tiny barbs impairing waterproofing, exposing birds to temperature extremes. In this emergency situation, the bird will focus on preening (cleaning feathers) – overriding all other natural behaviors, including evading predators and feeding, making the bird vulnerable to secondary health problems such as severe weight loss, anemia and dehydration. See: How Oil Affects Birds

A 24-inch underground pipeline burst about 20 miles NW of Santa Barbara. At least 100,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from the broken pipe, including an estimated 21,000 gallons that washed into a storm drain and flowed out to the Pacific Ocean.

As a member of California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network our wildlife responders were activated to help with search and collection and treatment and washing of affected seabirds. Our center in San Pedro near the Los Angeles Harbor is fully staffed with multiple washing stations and two aviaries – one that is large flight aviary.

Animal numbers are updated each day and available on the OWCN blog: http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/owcn/

Photo oiled Peilcan at International Bird Rescue

Wildlife responders from International Bird Rescue clean oiled Brown Pelican. Photo: Joseph Proudman – UC Davis

January 17, 2015

2015 – Mystery Goo in SF Bay

Photo of Bufflehead coated in mysterious goo

UPDATE (Sun, January 18, 10:40 pm): The total number of birds contaminated with a mystery substance transported to us from the San Francisco Bay has now risen to over 150. At least 20 have died, though we are now having success in washing birds healthy enough to endure the wash process.

We need your support. Please consider a donation of $25, $50 or more to care for these birds.

Earlier coverage:

OAKLAND (Jan. 17, 2015) — Dozens of seabirds have been found on the San Francisco Bay’s eastern shores covered in a viscous, mystery substance that destroys feather waterproofing, which can cause hypothermia and death.

East Bay Regional Park District staffers notified International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay center late Friday of a large influx of birds found on both land and water covered in the Mapunknown substance. As of Saturday afternoon, a total of 60 seabirds, including Surf Scoters, Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes had been transported to the International Bird Rescue center located in Fairfield. Four have died, and an unspecified additional number of birds have been found and are awaiting transport by search-and-collection teams.

Areas of the East Bay where the birds have been found include Crab Cove in Alameda, the Hayward shoreline and the San Leandro Marina.

“We have not seen this type of substance before, though preliminary tests have shown it is not petroleum-based,” said Barbara Callahan, interim executive director of International Bird Rescue who served as bird unit leader during the 2010 BP oil spill. “Our veterinary and rehabilitation staff is working overtime to ensure all birds transported to us receive optimal emergency care.”

Like petroleum, the mystery substance, clear to pale gray in color, breaks down a bird’s feather structure, destroying the animal’s ability to regulate body temperature in the cold San Francisco Bay waters. International Bird Rescue’s team is taking the same safety precautions with the affected birds as it does with oiled animals from a spill.

With no indication of the substance’s origin, International Bird Rescue is paying for all emergency care costs at this time and is seeking public support. Donations can be made at birdrescue.org or by mail to International Bird Rescue, 4369 Cordelia Rd, Fairfield CA 94534.

“Because we’ve never seen a substance like this before, we’re uncertain how many of these spectacular seabirds we can save,” Callahan said. “But we will save as many as is humanely possible.”

"East Bay Regional Park Event 1/16/15 incoming Surf Scoter"
Photos: Top, a Bufflehead coated in the mystery substance; above, a Surf Scoter also affected. Photos by Cheryl Reynolds/International Bird Rescue. 

Surf Scoters

Eared Grebes 

August 1, 2013

2013 – Alberta bitumen release


International Bird Rescue has sent a four-person team to assist in collection and rehabilitation efforts for wildlife affected by the MAPbitumen release at the Canadian Natural Resources Limited Primrose Project in northeastern Alberta (read this report in the Edmonton Journal for more information on animal care efforts).

We are proud to be working alongside The Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton and the Oiled Wildlife Society of British Columbia. Coleen Doucette, Vice President for the Oiled Wildlife Society of British Columbia, is managing the animal care program.

Currently in care are two American Beavers, two Muskrats, a Mallard Duckling and an American Coot. The two American Beavers in care are juveniles and have undergone cleaning, while one Adult muskrat was also cleaned, and all are in good physical condition.

We will keep you updated on the response effort via this blog.

Founded in 1971, International Bird Rescue has extensive experience in oiled wildlife events around the world. During the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we co-managed oiled bird rehabilitation centers in four states as part of a large-scale response to the incident that involved federal and state agencies, industry and non-governmental organizations.

Map of International Bird Rescue historic response efforts:

Beaver in Rehab home 1

November 14, 2012

2012 – Alaska Oiled Wildlife Incident

This week, we’re truly putting our “Every Bird Matters” tagline into practice by responding to an oil contamination event that has affected animals on Alaska’s remote St. Lawrence Island.

Along with local villagers, federal and state officials have found a total of seven oiled seabirds and seals on the island, located in the Bering Sea (for more information, read this article in Wednesday’s Anchorage Daily News). Both the origin and type of oil is unknown and currently under investigation.

So far, one live oiled bird has been recovered: a juvenile Thick-billed Murre, which is currently being treated at our Alaska Wildlife Response Center (AWRC) in Anchorage. The AWRC was created in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and remains a vital resource for oiled bird rehabilitation in Alaska.

Thick-billed Murres are fascinating seabirds, nesting on rocky cliff faces and producing eggs that are pointed at one end to help prevent them from rolling off the ledges. Just three weeks after hatching, flightless chicks dive into the icy waters below and begin to swim for hundreds of miles. (Read more about this species here via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Alaska Region.)

This murre came to our center on November 10, and was stabilized and fed for a few days by IBR rehabilitator Julie Skoglund. It was washed on Tuesday, and is currently being waterproofed and living in one of our small rehab pools. We will return this bird back into the wild as soon as it meets its criteria for release, hopefully within a few days.

Though this mystery spill has produced only one live oiled bird thus far, we are prepared and equipped to handle more should they be found. Our job is to care for all birds harmed by human interaction. So, here we are in Alaska, helping a bird that otherwise may not have survived.

Meanwhile, in California, International Bird Rescue is currently caring for birds affected by natural oil seepage on the Pacific coast. Oiled birds include this large, male Western Grebe recently washed at our Los Angeles regional rehabilitation facility.

Update: This bird has been successfully rehabilitated and release. Click here for release photos.

Murre photos/video by Julie Skoglund.

July 4, 2011

2011 – Yellowstone River Spill

A team of six oiled wildlife response experts from International Bird Rescue has been deployed to Montana following the Yellowstone River Pipeline Spill. The response team, headed up by Director Emeritus, Jay Holcomb, began arriving in Billings, Montana, on July 3 and will be working with state and federal wildlife agencies to help coordinate the rescue and rehabilitation of any impacted wildlife.

International Bird Rescue’s team has responded to over 200 oil spills in more than a dozen countries around the world.

To report oiled wildlife in Montana, please call 1 (888) 382-0043.

For further information on the response go to www.exxonmobilpipeline.com.

June 20, 2010

2010 – Gulf spill response: FAQs

Oiled Pelicans before cleaning and after during 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

Oiled Pelicans before and after cleaning during wildlife response at 2010 Gulf Oil Spill.

From IBRRC’s Jay Holcomb, who is at the center of the BP Gulf oiled bird response in Louisiana:

We are almost into July and have just taken in our 600th bird here in Louisiana at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center. The majority of those birds have come into the center in the last 2 weeks when a section of oil was carried to shore near Grand Isle, LA and impacted many brown pelicans and other smaller bird species.


Cleaning oiled pelicans at the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center.

Currently we have about 300 clean and beautiful brown pelicans outside in large cages getting ready for release. They are starting to be released today in groups and we will continue to release them twice a week until they are all gone. There are currently about 100 oiled pelicans in the building waiting to be washed and some smaller species of birds such as gulls and herons.

The heat here is very difficult to work in but everyone is doing well and moving the birds through the rehabilitation process. We have set up specific times for the media to come and film the birds and the work so that it limits the stress on people and animals. The media has been very cooperative with us.

I play a few roles here in Ft. Jackson and one is the External Affairs role that puts me in touch with the media and the world at large so I thought I would take this opportunity to answer some of the main questions that I am being asked daily.

Question: Where the pelicans are going to be released?

Answer: The pelicans are being flown to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. Will they come back to Louisiana? There is that possibility but the US Fish & Wildlife Service has determined that this is the best place to release them at this time. It is a long way from the spill so we are hoping that they stay in the area, at least for a while. The smaller inland birds are being released in the Sherburne Wildlife Management Area just north of Lafayette as they become ready.

Q: How long is IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue going to be in the Gulf of Mexico helping care for the birds?

A: Well, as long as the oil is gushing from the earth and birds are at risk of getting oiled then we will be here.

Q: Is BP supporting your efforts to care for the oiled birds?

A: Yes, BP is the responsible party and is paying for all the costs associated with the care and rehabilitation of oiled birds. IBRRC and Tri-State Bird Rescue are hired to manage the rehabilitation program for the oiled birds from this spill so in actuality we are contractors for BP.

Q: What will the success rate be for oiled brown pelicans?

A: It’s impossible to predict the future but these are very healthy and strong birds and have a good chance at surviving the rehabilitation process. The majority of these birds are handling the stress of oiling, washing and rehabilitation extremely well, as expected. Over 300 of them have been cleaned and are in outside aviaries at this time getting ready for release. Brown pelicans typically have a high survival rate in oil spills when they are captured early on and given the appropriate care, as has happened here to date. I expect the majority of them to make it but time will tell and we will report on these birds as we move through the spill.

See also: Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill detailed wildlife reports

Q: How can people help or donate?

A: Well, as I have said before, we currently have plenty of help and are not in need of volunteers. As well as the Tri-State and IBRRC response teams, wildlife paraprofessionals from the Gulf Coast States are supplementing our workforce. In Louisiana, this is being coordinated by LSART (Louisiana State Animal Response Team).

Regarding donating to the cause, there are pelicans and thousands of other wild animals all over the country that need help and are cared for by wildlife rehabilitators. I urge everyone to locate their local wildlife rehabilitation organization and support them and their great work in helping our precious wildlife get a second chance at life. Check with your state department of Fish and Game and they can help you locate a worthy wildlife rehabilitation organization.

Beware of the NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) that claim they are raising money to help either restore the gulf or set up mass volunteer networks for spill response. Everyone wants a piece of this pie and a number of these groups who have never done much about oil spill response in the past are now asking for money, holding fundraising events, telethons etc. and using many tactics including celebrity endorsement and the media. They are opportunistic and take advantage of every oil spill or big disaster and I strongly urge you just to be cautious. Before you donate ask how and where your money will be spent before you give.

Again, the real unsung and under-funded heroes who help wildlife around this country are the wildlife rehabilitation organizations who work 24/7 to care for our precious wildlife. They are hands on, on the front lines and the results of their efforts can be witnessed every time they release a rehabilitated animal back into the wild. My strong suggestion is that you support these organizations if you really want to help wildlife!

Thanks for visiting our blog. I will be in touch soon with more news and to answer more questions and share more pictures.

– Jay Holcomb, Executive Director, IBRRC


International Bird Rescue Response Teams starting working in Gulf Coast within days of the Deepwater Horizon well blow out on April 20, 2010. With nearly 40 years of experience on more than 200 spills, IBRRC brings a wide variety of skills working with oiled wildlife.

Photo cleaning Roseate Spoonbill at Gulf Oil Spill in 2010 by International Bird Rescue

Response team members clean a Roseate Spoonbill of oil at Fort Jackson Center, Louisiana. Courtesy photo: © Brian Epstein

November 12, 2009

2009 – Dubai Star – San Francisco, CA

Ten birds were released by OWCN personnel and volunteers back into the wild this afternoon after successful treatment following oiling in Dubai Star oil spill in San Francisco Bay.

The birds included five American Coots, two Western/Clark’s Grebes, a Eared Grebe, a Horned Grebe and a Greater Scaup). The healthy birds were set free in Berkeley.

A total of 49 live oiled birds have been captured following the tanker spill on October 30, 2009 about 2 1/2 miles south of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. At least 20 birds have been found dead after spill that leaked up to 800 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay.

The birds are being treated in Fairfield at the San Francisco Oiled Wildlife Care & Education Center (SFBOCEC) that is co-managed by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC).

You can see more updates on the OWCN Blog

Photo courtesy: OWCN

January 5, 2008

2008 – Argentina spill, Patagonia

An oil spill of unknown origin is causing great harm to at least 430 seabirds along Argentina’s Patagonia coastline. A team from International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is responding to this remote location.

The total number of oiled animals currently in care is 430 and includes 20 steamer ducks, 200 Magellanic penguins, 180 silvery and crested grebes, 41 cormorants. The steamer ducks and Magellanic penguins are the highest conservation priority as they’re both listed as near threatened by Birdlife International.

The spill happened on December 26, 2007 in the province of Chubut, a oil producing region along the southern coast of Patagonia. The Incident name is “Patagonia Argentina Mystery Oil Spill.”

IFAW’s Emergency Relief Team is managed cooperatively by IFAW and the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) which brings over 35 years of experience responding to oiled wildlife. The team is comprised of leaders in the field of wildlife rehabilitation, biology, veterinary medicine and management.

Hear podcast from Barbara Callahan, IBRRC Director of Response Services and IFAW’s ER Manager – Oiled Wildlife Division

IFAW report on spill Argentina oil spill response

Argentina Strives to Clean Mystery Oil Spill in Patagonia

November 12, 2007

2007 – Cosco Busan, San Francisco, CA

A rescued oiled Surf Scoter from Cosco Busan spill is examined at the San Francisco Bay Center.

Dark days on San Francisco Bay

Map from California’s Fish & Wildlife, Office of Spill Response: Report of Cosco Busan Oil Spill

More than a 1,000 oiled birds were treated at International Bird Rescue’s San Francisco Bay-Delta center after the deadly Cosco Busan oil spill. A container ship’s collision with the San Francisco Bay Bridge on November 7, 2007 caused a large spill of 54,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil that coated birds and other wildlife.

By January 2008, 1,084 oiled birds arrived at the Bird Rescue’s center in Cordelia. At least 424 cleaned birds have been released back in the wild. Birds are being set free at Heart’s Desire Beach in Tomales Bay. This at the Point Reyes National Seashore area about 40 miles north of San Francisco and at Pilar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, 25 miles south of San Francisco. Some birds are being released at Crissy Field near the Golden Gate Bridge. Read: San Francisco Chronicle story

More than 2,500 birds died in the spill. Wildlife biologists fear that more than 20,000 birds may ultimately perish from the disaster. They believe thousands of birds landed in the oily bay and then left the area to die elsewhere. Some also may have been eaten by predators.

  • Birds arrived: 1,084
  • Found dead in the field: 1,858
  • Died/Euthanized: 653
  • Released: 421
  • FDIF birds: 939 visibly oiled, 854 un-oiled and 25 unassessed. (As of 1/15/08)

Download the Bird Injury Factsheet (360 KB)

Following the spill many oiled birds were collected on the bay and on beaches stretching north up to Marin County and south along Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Surf Scoters, Scaups and Grebes seem to be the most affected by this spill. Also, two raccoons were found dead.

During the spill, the Coast Guard closed 30 beaches: Ocean Beach, Angel Island, Crissy Field, Kirby Cove, Black Sand Beach, Rodeo Beach, Fort Point, Muir Beach, Fort Baker and China Beach, Tennessee Valley, Keller Beach, Point Isabel, Ferry Point, Cesar Chavez Beach, Middle Harbor and Shimada Park. Some beaches may have been reopened.

Bunker fuel spills are extremely toxic to marine life, especially birds that float and feed through a spill. The oil inhibits the birds ability to thermo-regulate and they become cold as their natural insulation in their feathers break down. The birds spend most of their time trying to preen the oil out of feathers and thus ingesting the oil. Weakened, they will often beach themselves and fall prey to predators or die from the toxic effects of oil. See: How Oil Affects Birds

Bird Rescue was activated immediately to search and rescue birds affected by the spill. The Bay Area based non-profit has a long history of helping oiled wildlife. The organization began in 1971 when two tankers collided in SF Bay spilling 900,000 gallons of oil. Since then the organization has become an expert in the field of wildlife search and collection, stabilization and the washing of oil from affected animals. IBRRC has worked on 150+ spills worldwide partnering with other groups to to train responders in Africa, Europe, Asia and South America.

Locally Bird Rescue is part of California’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Any oiled animals will be brought to the OWCN’s San Francisco Bay Area wildlife center for treatment. The center is managed in partnership with International Bird Rescue. It’s located near the junction of highways 80 and 680 in the Cordelia/Fairfield area.


On Wednesday November 7, 2007 the Cosco Busan container ship side swiped one of the western anchorages of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The ship leaked bunker fuel oil after a gash was discovered in its port side. The 810-foot vessel was headed out of Oakland and bound for South Korea when it hit the bridge in heavy fog around 8:30 AM. The bridge did not suffer significant damage and traffic continued to flow on the span.

This is this worst spill in the area since 1996 when the Cape Mohican spilled 40,000 gallons of fuel oil into San Francisco Bay near Pier 70. The most severe spill inside the San Francisco Bay occurred in 1971 when 900,000 gallons of oil spilled after two oil tankers collided in the fog near the Golden Gate Bridge. See: IBR history

The largest spill in area waters happened in 1984 when the Puerto Rican, spilled 1.5 million gallons of oil in the open ocean off the Golden Gate in 1984. In contrast the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska spilled 11 million gallons of oil. Some members of the IBRRC response team spent six months helping save wildlife in that spill.

Please remember: Do not attempt to wash, feed or house oiled birds and other animals! Spilled oil is extremely toxic. The use of proper gloves and protocols must be followed to insure the safety of the public AND the animals.


Oil Spill Spreads in San Francisco Bay: New York Times
PBS News Hour report: Podcast 11/21/07
Spill’s effect on birds: San Francisco Chronicle
Oil spill’s environmental impact studied: Mercury News

International Bird Rescue is a proud founding member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) a legislatively mandated program within The California Fish and Game, Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) which strives to ensure that wildlife exposed to petroleum products in the environment receive the best achievable treatment by providing access to permanent wildlife rehabilitation facilities and trained personnel for oil spill response within California.

January 28, 2006

2006 – Tallinn, Estonia

Oil spill and icy weather in Gulf of Finland impacts thousands of rare Mute Swans and ducks

Team members work carefully to rescue a Mute Swan that was stuck in ice after being oiled in Estonia.

International Bird Rescue (IBR) started off its 35 year anniversary by responding to an oil spill in Estonia which oiled hundreds, possibly thousands, of seabirds and swans. As co-managers of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Emergency Relief Team (IFAW) IBR provides substantial expertise for the international team.

On January 28, 2006 an oil slick was discovered on the northeast coast of Estonia and on islands in the Gulf of Finland. Estimated at 20 tons, the oil from a yet to be determined source killed thousands of birds who winter there, and left many survivors in need of rescue. When the size and impact of the spill became apparent, the Ministry of the Environment and the Estonian Fund for Nature requested help. A week after the spill, the IFAW ER Team was mobilized and on the way to Tallinn, Estonia. Project Blue Seas from Germany and RSPCA, England are also on-site and have been incorporated into the overall response team.

See BBC News story: Bird disaster hits Estonia coast

Heavily oiled Mute Swan is stabilized and ready to be washed at Estonia spill in 2006.

Hitting the ground running, the Team evaluated what had already been done and determined the course of action necessary to coordinate the efforts of local organizations and volunteers to set up one centralized center. This would put all rescued birds in one place where the ER Team could give them the best care possible, greatly increasing their chance to survive the life-threatening ordeal.

Within 48 hours of arrival, a building in Keila, 30 minutes from Tallinn, had been set up and the first birds started arriving from several temporary centers, including the Tallinn Zoo. A modern building, loaned by the Estonian Ministry of the Environment, was quickly converted into rehabilitation rooms for the oiled birds, a wash room and a food preparation kitchen. Pools were erected and enclosed in a large tent for reconditioning the birds after cleaning. Storage tanks for oiled waste water were put on the site and a comprehensive site safety plan was developed. The Team was able to accomplish this with considerable help from the Estonian Fund for Nature and the Estonian authorities. A dozen plumbers, electricians and carpenters worked in sub-zero temperatures to get the center up and running in record time. For oiled birds, there is a very small window of time in which they can be saved.

On February 10, the center had 103 birds in care, including 22 mute swans, a species that is has “threatened status” in this part of the world. As with most oil spills in winter, rescue teams face dangerous challenges due to ice that freezes and thaws and hard to reach areas with snow over ice. Many birds, too weak to move, were freezing into ice while still alive. Amazingly, swans that had to be carefully chipped from the ice are surviving and recovering well.

Battling freezing temperatures, Mute Swans needed quick attention to save these threatened birds.

The spill has covered a relatively small distance of coastline of about 18 km long, including the nearby islands, but the area is heavily utilized as a foraging area for seabirds this time of year. Rescue teams combing beaches saw approximately 50 swans that are oiled and in need of rescue. However, if oiled birds are able to fly, capture can be difficult. A boat was made available to the rescue team, but it is extremely difficult to get to the oiled birds in the icy conditions. On several occasions a team member has had to wade into freezing water waist deep to rescue to a bird.

Six days after arrival, the Team has birds stable enough to be washed. Many are very heavily oiled but they will come clean when the experts begin washing them. Swans that look black will again be snow white. After washing, the birds go under dryers which dry their wet feathers while they preen them back into place. At this point many birds will feel quite good and will be able to feed themselves. When deemed ready, the birds will go into the outside recovery pools, where they will continue to preen and regain their waterproofing. In a week (February 17) some may even be ready for release. However, there is a serious concern that oil trapped in the ice will become a hazard to seabirds again when it begins to melt in the spring. Local volunteers are receiving training at the center to be able to help this second phase of oiled birds who will need rescue and rehabilitation.

Bird affected by the spill include: Long-tailed Ducks, Mute Swans, Golden-eyes and Smews (Eurasian diving ducks).

IFAW’s Emergency Relief team includes veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators from International Bird Rescue Research Center (US) and others from around the world, including Brazil (IFAW Penguin Network and CRAM), IFAW Russia and IFAW Germany. The team is working with the Estonian Fund for Nature the Ministry of the Environment, Project Blue Seas (Germany), SEA ALARM (Netherlands and Belgium) and the RSPCA (UK), as well as local volunteers.

IFAW’s Emergency Relief (ER) Team is managed cooperatively by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the International Bird Rescue (IBR) which brings over 30 years of experience responding to oiled wildlife. The team is comprised of leaders in the field of wildlife rehabilitation, biology, veterinary medicine and management who are professionals from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Africa, UK and USA.

April 30, 2005

2005 – Coatzacoalcos, Mexico

Ruptured PEMEX oil pipeline soaks wildlife in Gulf of Mexico

oiled Brown pelicans in mexicoA stubborn oil spill along the coast near Veracruz, Mexico affected hundreds of birds and animals. A total of 175 birds were captured by joint IBRRC/IFAW Emergency Response (ER) Team. The spill occurred on December 22, 2004.

As aviaries were being constructed on the waters edge near the Coatzacoalcos River, dozens of pelicans and other seabirds flew overhead or sat around on the tops of the nearby buildings watching the activities going on below. Most of them appeared to be oiled.

“We have about 100 birds in-house and another 400 on-house!” said Jay Holcomb co-director of the ER Team, trying to add some humor to a very trying experience.

The rescue team captured large numbers of pelicans on a daily basis simply by baiting them in. Most were in good condition and all ate well so the turnaround from washing to release was quick.

According to Paul Kelway of the ER Team, the group captured a large number of pelicans on a daily basis simply by baiting them in. Most are in good condition and all ate well so the turnaround to washing and then to release was quite quick.

Species treated included Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, herons, snakes and box turtles as well as a hawk, Kingfisher, iguana and a water turtle.

The ER Team approached 15 people strong at the height of the spill. Volunteers included students from the University of Veracruz.

Spill details

The broken PEMEX oil pipeline spilled at least 7,000 gallons (26,000 liters) of oil affecting birds and animals in the Veracruz area of the Gulf of Mexico.

Reports estimated that up to 400 pelicans were impacted and requiring washing and rehabilitation. Because the oil traveled up to 7 miles (11km), the damage to wildlife and beaches was worse than originally thought. The ER Team recruited additional help in order to recover and wash more birds.

The oil spilled from a ruptured pipeline into the Coatzacoalcos River on Dec. 22, 2004 following an explosion at a pumping station near Santiago Tuxtla, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) east-southeast of Mexico City. The blast caused a burst of high pressure that ruptured the oil line 70 miles (110 kilometers) away in Nanchital, just south of the Gulf port city of Coatzacoalcos.

The pelicans rescued by the ER Team were cared for at a makeshift facility owned by Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). The team identified possible facilities where access to good amounts of hot water was available and where the rehabilitation process following washing could be carried out. It was determined that the Fisherman’s Club was the best available facility
for rehabilitation.

The IBRRC/IFAW team gathered and trained volunteers from the local university in Veracruz to assist with the oiled wildlife operation. Pemex hired over 1,000 workers to assist in the oil cleanup. Water heaters were also purchased to provide sufficient quantities of hot water for the washing process. Pens and pools were built on the beach to house and wash the birds.

The ER Team worked with Pemex to set up waste tanks in order to properly dispose of the waste water generated by the animal washing.

About the ER Team

IFAW’s Emergency Relief (ER) Team is managed cooperatively
by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) which brings over 30 years of experience responding to oiled wildlife. The team is comprised of leaders in the field of wildlife rehabilitation, biology, veterinary medicine and management who are professionals from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, South Africa, UK and USA. In 2000 the team jointly led the response to the Treasure Oil Spill in Cape Town, South Africa, with SANCCOB, which was the largest of its kind. This required a three-month operation involving 12,000 volunteers and ultimately of the 20,000 oiled African penguins, 90% were released back into the wild. The IFAW ER Team has attended more than a dozen major oil spill wildlife disasters around the world in recent years. IFAW’s ER team now has such experience that it is recognized as having a global presence that supersedes other oiled wildlife response organizations.

Media stories

Black Gold Leaves a Stain on Mexican Coastal Region, Los Angeles Times

– Compiled by Russ Curtis/IBRRC with help from IFAW reports.

April 30, 2005

2005 – Selendang Ayu – Alaska

Learning from Alaska

Severe weather, remote location hamper work in worst spill since Exxon Valdez
The search for oiled animals was called off in early January 2005 after most of 470,000 gallons of oil leaked from a grounded freighter into the waters off Unalaska Island. Members of the IBRRC response team were able to collect 29 birds – even though severe winter weather and the remote location hampered the search and collection of oiled animals. A stranded Malaysian cargo ship that lost power on December 8, 2004, still sits in shallow water in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. The vessel has been there since it lost power and broke in half on its way to China from Tacoma, Washington with a cargo of 60,000 tons of soybeans. Oil not the only mess left by freighter According to Incident Command reports, more than 1,500 birds and five otters have found dead. Several hundred more live oiled birds were spotted, but proved to unreachable because of the remote Bering Sea location.

Totals as of Feb 2, 2005

  • Captured – 29
  • Cleaned and Released – 10
  • Died – 19 Birds, 6 Mammals
  • Carcasses – 1,503 Birds, 6 Mammals

Various experts have called the spill the worst since the disastrous 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that dumped 11 million gallons into the Prince William Sound. The ship ran aground near Valdez on Bligh Reef at 12:04 am March 24, 1989.
In an attempt to prevent similar accidents in the future, a new coalition of business and conservation interests announced the formation of a Shipping Safety Partnership (SSP). The oiled birds collected, included Common Murres, Crested Auklets, Horned-grebes, Pelagic Cormorants and a Long-tailed Duck. Some members of IBRRC’s oil spill reponse team left Alaska and traveled directly to a broken pipeline oil spill near Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico.

To study the impact of the spill on shorebirds, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) released 162 bird size blocks of wood from the grounding site the second week in January 2005. The blocks will help determine where dead birds might have drifted, said Catherine Berg, an oil spill response coordinator with the USFWS. The agency is asking that people report any ocean sightings and return any blocks found on shore.

“We’re trying to get a feel for what we may have missed,” Berg said. “It’s just not possible to search every beach where carcasses come ashore and even if could, we’d still be competing with animals that prey on oiled birds, like foxes, eagles, gulls and rats.”

At the mercy of the weather

For three weeks the weather proved to be a frustrating waiting game for IBBRC and others on scene. The cleanup and search for oiled animals was stalled by strong winds, rough seas and the remoteness of the spill. Adding to concerns: Only five hours of daylight in this area of Alaska in winter.

“We are at the mercy of the weather,” said Jay Holcomb, Executive Director of the California-based IBRRC. “As soon as there’s an opening in the storms we’ll assist wildlife officials in assessing and capturing any oiled wildlife we can find.” Holcomb said. “But it has to be safe enough for our team members to access the impacted areas.” When live birds were rescued, they were stabilized for a day or two in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Then the oiled birds were flown to Anchorage for treatment at IBRRC-managed Alaska Wildlife Response Center (AWRC). The AWRC is an adapted warehouse that was developed after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989. It is funded by the petroleum industry. Federal law requires that any oil spill response team include wildlife handlers. In past spills, animals have been hazed to keep them out of oil and IBRRC has captured and removed healthy animals to keep them clean.

Tar balls from the spill were reported on shore as far north as Makushin Bay, about 10 miles from the spill site. Oil was also spotted in Skan Bay, drifting north from the wreckage.
According to a federal hazardous materials fact sheet, the type of bunker oil on the ship is “a dense, viscous oil … (that) usually spreads into thick, dark colored slicks” when it is spilled on water.

Biologists are worried that the spill from the vessel could threaten Steller sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals and seabirds foraging in bays along the island’s west coast. This spill was not only a tragedy for wildlife but for people as well. A Coast Guard helicopter crashed trying to rescue crew members from the grounded freighter. Six people were lost at sea in the 43-degree water; the four Coast Guard members onboard survived.
The internationally recognized IBRRC has responded to more than 200 spills since its formation in 1971. On this spill, the bird rescue group is working with the oil spill response co-op Alaska Chadux Corporation.

April 30, 2005

2005 – Mystery Spill – Ventura, CA

Mystery spill leaves oily wake in Southern California

Portable pools setup in front of the Los Angles Center in January 2005 hold Grebes and other birds species affected by a Ventura/Los Angeles County mystery spill. (Photo by International Bird Rescue)

More than 1,400 birds, mainly Western Grebes, came into the San Pedro, CA center after an oil slick first struck along the Ventura and Los Angeles County coastline on January 13, 2005. As late as April 2005, a couple dozen oil covered birds were still showing up sporadically in need of attention.

A little more than 200 birds were released back into the wild. At least 300 of the birds brought to the center died or had to be euthanized.

This was the first major test of the Los Angeles area bird center. The permanent facility was built with state funds and opened in March of 2001. IBRRC manages the center for the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN). It operates a year-round rehabilitation program for sick and injured birds. A small dedicated staff and a large contingent of local volunteers help make the non-profit San Pedro center a valuable contribution to the local wildlife community.

The spill proved to be a stubborn mess. State Fish and Game authorities are still trying to determine the source of the oil. Early reports tied the oil in the water to the disastrous mudslide that struck the La Conchita area on January 11, 2005. The spill was originally called the Ventura mystery spill.

Feather samples from oiled birds have ruled out other sources of oil, primarily oil from platforms off Ventura and Santa Barbara coastlines. Officials think the oil may have come from a broken pipeline onshore. But that has yet to be determined. Some wildlife experts believe that a total of 3,000 to 5,000 birds will ultimately be affected by the spill. It’s the largest California spill in 15 years in terms of bird injuries and deaths. The area that was affected stretched from Santa Barbara to Playa del Rey – some 80+ miles of coastline.

The birds most affected in this spill were Clark’s Grebes, Western Grebes and Common Loons. These are mostly species that float or raft off shore where the concentration of oil seems to be heaviest. Birds that get oiled and don’t get treated quickly – face a certain death. Without attention, birds cannot thermo-regulate and usually die within days.

After birds are captured and stabilized, they are transported to the nearest full-time rehabilitation center. In this spill it is the San Pedro bird center for treatment. State officials warned the public not to approach the oiled birds, pointing out that grebes have particularly sharp beaks. They are advising people who came across the birds to call (562) 342-7222.

If you do catch the birds please put them in a big box with air holes and a towel at the bottom.

About the IBR/OWCN partnership:

International Bird Rescue (IBR) plays two major roles within the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN). First, Bird Rescue acts as the lead oiled bird response organization that, under the management of the OWCN, responds to most of the oil spills that affect birds, reptiles and fresh water aquatic mammals in California. Secondly, Bird Rescue is contracted to develop and teach a series of annual trainings for OWCN participants. These trainings are designed to familiarize members with concepts in oiled wildlife capture and rehabilitation.

Once oiled, clean Western Grebes swim in pool before being released back to the wild. Photo by International Bird Rescue

February 26, 2004

2004 – Rocknes Spill – Norway

Norway emergency relief and rehabilitation report from Rocknes spill

Field Report #13— Friday, February 26, 2004
The team has now fully de-mobilized from Norway. After the release of 11 Eider ducks last Friday another 11 birds were released on Saturday followed by four on Sunday. The last Mallard was then released on Monday leaving just two Eider ducks at the center. We had concerns about the last Eider ducks, one adult male and one juvenile, as they had been washed at the beginning of February and were still not waterproof despite all the supportive care from the team. The juvenile was also quite thin and underweight.
Every effort was made by the team to keep their pool water as clean as possible and to ensure they had as much access to food. On Monday after an evaluation that showed their waterproofing had improved they both went into a pool without a haul-out for the first time. Each Eider must spend at least 48 hours in a non haul-out pool before being evaluated for release.

If we needed any reminder of the importance of waterproofing to these birds, the temperature dropped to well below freezing during our final days. If we had any concerns about these birds getting wet after release it really would be cruel to let them go no matter how much we wanted to see them released. Three of our remaining five team members, Curt Clumpner, Ken Brewer and Bruce Adkins, left early on Tuesday morning, which left only Dr. Valeria Ruoppolo and myself on the ground. The center was the quietest it had ever been and the cold weather and snow continued, making it even tougher for these birds. As if they both knew this was their big chance our checks on Tuesday showed that their waterproofing was looking good. The juvenile also seemed to be eating every fish we threw into the pool and had gained considerable weight.

On Wednesday, the day we were both scheduled to leave Norway, we evaluated both birds for release and despite all the odds they passed! We drove to the North of the Island with Arnold Haaland from NNI and, for the last time, released Eiders back into the Fjords. We then packed up our remaining items back at the center, said our goodbyes and headed for the airport. The last two birds and the last two people released on the same day! This takes the total number of birds released to 81 out of 131 received at our center.

To put this into context, our team did not arrive on the ground until 5 days after the incident. Search and collection did not begin for another two days. This kind of response had also never been tried before in Norway so there was no preparedness and no understanding of what is involved in this work. This meant that much of the vital equipment we needed either had to be constructed from scratch or shipped from other countries which all took time that we did not have. In spite of all of these challenges we managed to save over 60% of the birds we received and relieve the suffering of those that were beyond saving. There is still a long way to go with this issue in Norway but we hope that this will lay the foundation for future responses and provide an interesting case study for the authorities. NNI, the environmental consultancy we have been working with, have already applied for government funding for post-release studies on the gulls and mallards released and will carry out this work with or without their support. This effort is both a credit to our team, who worked tirelessly for these animals, and the volunteers and organizations in Norway that gave up so much of their time to make this happen. They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This first step is both a positive and an important one for oiled wildlife in Norway.

Field Report #12— Friday, February 20, 2004
There are only five of our team members still here now so despite there being less birds there has been a great deal of work to share out between a small number of people, hence the lack of reports from the field! As it stands today we have 23 birds here at the center. We have been releasing eider ducks every other day for the past week and this afternoon 11 birds left the center, our biggest single release so far. We had agreed that this would be our best chance to re-ignite interest in the media and also to invite local volunteers and sponsors along to see the end result of all their hard work. The turnout from the media was excellent. All three Norwegian television stations were represented as well as the national radio station, and a number of our team were interviewed.


We are hopeful that quite a few of the remaining birds will be ready for release in the next day or two. We will also be carefully re-assessing the records and condition of the others. Some of the birds have been here for a few weeks now and are either not showing signs of improvement or have additional problems. If these animals will not fully recover and be able to thrive again in the wild then euthanasia will be the most humane solution for them now.
There is always only a small window of opportunity for oiled wildlife and here in Norway the lack of preparedness for this kind of response slowed down our efforts at the start. Many of the birds were recovered after more than a week of being oiled and were severely debilitated. This makes it much more difficult to rehabilitate them successfully.
On Tuesday a meeting took place in Bergen between the various governmental agencies responsible for wildlife and spill response to discuss the Rocknes incident. Arnold Haaland from NNI had invited them to visit our operation but we had not received a response. We were therefore taken by surprise when 7 people arrived at the center on Tuesday afternoon asking for a tour of the facilities. The group included representatives from the County GovernorÕs office, the Nature Directorate and the Coastguard.
They stayed with us for an hour and were given a thorough tour and explanation of the process for rehabilitating oiled wildlife. We were able to talk about the importance of preparedness and also about the importance of developing the skills and experience to respond to larger potential incidents in the future, including those that may have a significant conservation value where red-listed species such as Stellars Eiders may be involved.

They all seemed very interested in the work and, while convincing the authorities to change the policy on oiled wildlife will be a much longer process, we were delighted that they took advantage of the opportunity to see how this operation has been put together and to see clean, healthy, waterproof birds in the pools. Following discussions with one of the volunteers about the importance of contingency planning and preparedness, the volunteer decided to make contact with his local MP to ask if they could table a parliamentary question to the Fisheries Minister on behalf of the operation.
The question was raised in parliament on Tuesday by Audun Bjorlo Lysbakken from the Socialist Left Party. The following is the text as retrieved from the official website:

ÒWhat is the Minister’s view on initiatives like Aksjon Rein Fugl (Action Clean Bird), and what is the Department’s (Fisheries) view on public funding for such actions/work, or permanent initiatives that will make such responses a permanent part of oil contingency ns/stores already in place in coastal areas


At Horsoy, on Askoy, Hordaland, a center for oiled seabirds from the Rocknes spill has been established. The project is called ÔAksjon Rein Fugl,Õ and has dealt with over 100 oiled birds. The birds are rehabilitated and cleaned for oil. The work is done by volunteers from Bergen and surrounding areas in cooperation with an international group (IFAW). The instigators believe this work (and rehabilitation of oiled seabirds) should be an important part of any contingency planning in case of oil spills along the coast. This action is financed by IFAW and volunteers. We should be releasing birds on Saturday and Sunday and also beginning to pack up much of our equipment. We have procured a great deal more during this spill that will need to be stored for future use. Thankfully, Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL), an international spill response organization based in Southampton in the UK, have agreed to store this for us, which will be a tremendous help and will greatly improve our own preparedness. Once this equipment is safely on its way, we will be too.

Field Report #10— Thursday, February 12, 2004
Today we have some really great news – the first rescued Eider Ducks have been released back into the wild!
The three Eiders were set free in a nature reserve on the island of Askoy, near Bergen, signaling the start of a series of releases of the oiled seabirds that have been cleaned and rehabilitated here at the rehabilitation center. This first release of Eiders comes after several weeks of the rescue operation and now we will be releasing birds every few days. We have now cared for more than 120 birds at the center, which is in an unused fish processing plant on the island of Askoy. When they arrive vets examine the birds and take blood samples. Typically they are suffering from hypothermia and dehydration and need to be tube fed fluids. The intricate washing process takes place after a couple of days when the birds have recovered enough strength. Finally they need to be put in recovery pools to regain their waterproofing before they can be released. It is round the clock work for the team and the many local volunteers who are helping, but itÕs all worthwhile when you see the birds released back into the wild again!

Field Report #9 — Friday, February 6, 2004
W e are making good progress. 50 birds have now been washed, 13 have already been released and there are 15 still oiled. We plan to have a final push on search and collection over the weekend and will then have a clearer idea as to how much longer the rest of the operation will take. As many of the systems are now set up and working more smoothly I wanted to take the time in this report to talk about the team we have here in Norway.

The ER oil spill team on a day-to-day basis is only a handful of people and a joint effort between International Bird Rescue Research Center and IFAW. During a response the team has the capability of expanding, calling on experience from within the two organizations and from around the world.
Many members of the team have worked together in previous incidents, for others it is the first time. We ask a great deal of everyone that we call in and they each give 200 percent to the cause.

The situations we face always bring their own challenges and even when the bird numbers do not reach the magnitude of the Treasure the lack of preparedness, such as we have faced here in Norway and in Spain can make things extremely difficult. Working in a new country our reputation does not necessarily precede us either and so we have to prove ourselves, and actions in this kind of situation speak much louder than words.

Many of you will already be very familiar with International Bird Rescue Research Center as their relationship with IFAW goes back many years. They are true leaders in this field and on a response their experience shines through.

To the uninitiated it can seem like magic; the ability to care for large numbers of animals in an emergency situation without any of the proper resources to hand. When equipment is not available alternatives are constructed using any materials that can be found. There are never any problems that cannot be overcome, everything can be worked around if you just think outside of the box. It is true flexibility and it is all to ensure the best achievable care for the animals.

Jay Holcomb and Barbara Callahan have been instrumental in setting up the center and guiding the rehabilitation effort whilst Curt Clumpner has concentrated on coordinating the search and collection, which has been so critical in this situation. The rest of the team has also been fantastic. Manja Griehl from IFAW Germany has worked tirelessly to give the best care to the oiled birds, working extremely closely with our two vets Valeria Ruoppolo from Brazil and Martin Lavoie from Quebec, Canada. Another regular team member Gary Ward, from New Zealand, has been brought in to help with washing and the waterproofing of the clean birds while Chris Battaglia, also from IBRRC, was charged with setting up the facility with pools, water systems and a reliable power supply (ably assisted by our very own Bob the Builder, Nick Jenkins!). Last but not least IBRRC responders Ken Brewer and Bruce Adkins have lent their years of experience to the search and collection effort too and have both been leading teams out on the water.

We have been very warmly received here in Norway and it is a credit to each and every one of our team, who not only know how to best take care of the animals but also how to win over and inspire the local organizations and volunteers, and establish trust and friendship under incredibly stressful circumstances. I feel extremely proud and honored to work with them all.