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Aquarium Staff Members Helped Rescue Animals Affected by the Oil Spill

Four husbandry staff members surveyed beaches and rescued oiled birds. As of October 22, all of the ninety responders had rescued thirty-two birds, and nineteen that made a full recovery have been released.

Aviculturist picks up an oiled grebe on an oil-contaminated beach

Aviculturist Frankie Lill finds an oiled grebe on the beach and prepares it for transport to a local wildlife center to be cleaned and rehabilitated. Credit: Aquarium of the Pacific

October 25, 2021

After the oil spill in Orange County in October 2021, four of the Aquarium’s staff members who are trained by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) were called into duty to help search beaches and rescue oiled birds and animals. These trained responders include Aviculturist Frankie Lill, Mammalogists Erin Lundy and Samantha Emberton, and Curator of Birds and Mammals Brett Long. OWCN is the umbrella agency comprising forty-four member organizations, including the Aquarium, that responds to oil spills in California.

Over the course of eighteen days during the response, these four Aquarium staffers traveled to beaches from Long Beach to Oceanside to conduct surveys and rescue oiled wildlife, mostly birds. Shifts lasted ten to twelve hours and consisted of comprehensive beach surveys of up to twelve or thirteen miles a day on foot. Wearing yellow safety vests, they would use spotting scopes or binoculars to search for oiled wildlife, logging their survey track and each sighting in an app. To rescue an oiled animal, they would wear protective gear, including a hazmat suit, goggles, and gloves, carefully place the animal in a carrier, then transport it to the wildlife center in Orange County serving as the triage area.

Through the app, each logged animal was automatically assigned a number and QR code to identify it as it made its way from being rescued, to its initial exam at the triage area, to the facility where the animals were fully cleaned and rehabilitated in preparation for their release back into a safe wild habitat.

In total, ninety trained responders from fifteen OWCN partner organizations participated in the response. As of October 22, OWCN had rescued thirty-two birds and released nineteen that had made a full recovery. Seventy-eight birds had been recovered deceased. One marine mammal, a northern right whale dolphin, was rescued alive, and five marine mammals were recovered deceased. These numbers are updated daily on OWCN’s website at

OWCN Director Michael Ziccardi said in the Los Angeles Times on October 5 that the number of birds rescued early in the response was surprisingly low, perhaps thanks to migratory patterns that might have meant many birds were out of the area when the spill occurred.

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