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Professionalism trumps ignorance

By Jay Holcomb,
Executive Director, IBRRC

Search Selendang Ayu search photo

IBRRC's Bruce Adkins searches for oiled animals at the Selendang Ayu grounding off Unalaska Island in 2004. (Photo: Steve Ebert/USFWS)

In December 2004, members of IBRRC’s oil spill response team responded to the Selandang Ayu Oil Spill in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska. It was a sad and frustrating experience that claimed human lives as well as thousands of seabirds and other marine animals. Severe winter storms crippled all rescue and clean up efforts and only 23 live birds were captured and brought to our center in Anchorage to be rehabilitated. The remaining oiled birds and mammals perished in the storms.

To add insult to injury, Craig Medred, a local writer for the Anchorage Daily News, recycled an editorial he did on IBRRC, its staff and volunteers in 1996 when we responded to the Citrus oil spill in Alaska. In both editorials Mr. Medred made ridiculous assumptions, most notably that “we only rehabilitate oiled birds to feel good about ourselves” and that the animals suffer horribly in the process, calling our center in Anchorage the “Anchorage Bird Torture Center”.

Committed and highly trained people were affected and hurt by his words. However, it made me really think about why he, and occasionally others, did not recognize the value of each animal’s life, the proven track record that IBRRC and others have in rehabilitating them, and why we know it is our responsibility to do what we can to help them. First of all I want to clarify something. I know of no person in our field that cares for frightened and debilitated oiled birds so that they can feel good about themselves. That is beyond absurd but it has come up a few times! Believe me, there are so many other things we could all be doing with our time.

Murre oiled in Alaska spill

Oiled Crested-Auklet at IBRRC's Anchorage center receives treatment. (Photo: IBRRC)

The United States alone sees hundreds of oil spills every year that impact wildlife. Federal and state laws now require that oiled birds receive care and that is why oiled wildlife rehabilitation continues to exist; because there is a need for it and given the right circumstances, it can be very successful.

Those of us who rehabilitate oiled wildlife are passionate about our work because we often achieve positive results by helping to restore an animal who otherwise would not have a chance. We know we are contributing to the world in a valuable and meaningful way through practical application of our time and proven skills. The passion or excitement we demonstrate in our work should never be interpreted as “we do this work to feel good about ourselves”. It is the other way around! We believe in the work and its value and in turn we feel good about our involvement in it. We know animals are not only valuable but it is our responsibility to care for them, since we created the problem, not because we need it or want it. Any other interpretation of this enthusiasm is just plain ignorant.

Our work with wildlife goes far beyond oil spills. IBRRC manages two oiled bird rehabilitation centers in California as a member of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network. Within these state-of- the-art facilities, IBRRC operates its own rehabilitation program. This program specializes in aquatic bird rehabilitation for birds that experience other problems such as fishing tackle injuries or displacement from urban growth. These unique groups of birds are also the species that typically are victims of oil spills, and so for the past 35 years we have been specializing in their care and applying this knowledge to oiled birds.

We cared for a record number of birds in 2005 – including over 1,300 wild ducklings and goslings as part of our native waterfowl reintroduction efforts. We also responded to eight unique oils spills in the United States and internationally.

Partnering in oil spills and other wildlife events is key to our success and we are proud of these joint efforts. IBRRC staff, utilizing their emergency response experience, played a crucial role with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) coordinating pet rescue and transport efforts after Hurricane Katrina. Additionally, we are working with UC Davis Wildlife Health Center to provide the best medical care for the patients in our rehabilitation program and on a number of research projects aimed at understanding new threats to wild birds including West Nile Virus and Avian Flu.

In 2006, IBRRC enters our 35th year of existence. There are still oil spills throughout the world and many birds in need of care. We have ventured out internationally to help others in similar situations be better prepared and learn key skills in caring for oiled wildlife. We continue to work towards our mission:

“To mitigate human impact on aquatic birds and other wildlife. This is achieved through rehabilitation, emergency response, education, research, planning and training.”

2007 Director's Message
2004 Director's Message

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