Oiled Wildlife Response is a Team Sport

Little Blue Penguin on haulout in recovery pool at Rena New Zealand oil spill

Our latest update on the Rena Spill is brought to you by International Bird Rescue’s Preparedness Director, Curt Clumpner, who is on site in New Zealand working with Massey University in the role of Wildlife Center Deputy.

For those of you who don’t pay much attention to rugby “we” won the Rugby World Cup Sunday night. Much of the wildlife team watched it on one of the big screens in the hotel lobby. The wildlife team’s Kiwis and Americans all stood and sang the New Zealand national anthem (the Americans really only hummed) and cheered and groaned through a very close game, 8-7 New Zealand over France. The All-Blacks perform a ‘Haka’ at midfield facing the opposing team just before the start of each game. The ‘Haka’ is a traditional Maori war dance/challenge meant to intimidate the opponent. It is hard to describe but involves fierce faces, stomping and tongue wagging and in most cases it would cause tears in small children. It was a very exciting game even if we (the Americans) did not understand the rules very well. International Bird Rescue’s Barbara Callahan was waving her All-Blacks flag. Kerri Morgan from Massey University was pacing nervously and every so often someone in the room would yell a somewhat plaintive “come on boys”. In the end though “we” prevailed and there was much joy and relief. In my section of the hotel the neighbors were celebrating long into the night. At the wildlife center next morning there were more than a few people who seem to have developed a World Cup “flu” and it was Labor Day holiday, but we still had a good crew who got on with it.

One of the great things about going on international responses is the chance to work with different species. In this case we are working mostly with Little Blue Penguins, which I worked with 16 years ago during the Iron Baron spill in Australia, but also diving petrels, pied shags, and occasionally white-fronted terns, fluttering petrels and New Zealand Dotterels. In oiled wildlife care the principles pretty much hold true across species but the details may be different and learning the details and applying them correctly is always an interesting puzzle to work out.

It makes it much easier when the team contains members with a depth of local knowledge and experience with the species and that is one of the things that is great about the team that Maritime New Zealand and Massey University has put together. Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) (pronounced em-en-zed in this part of the world) contracts with the vet school at Massey University in Palmerston North much the same way California’s wildlife system is built around the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at UC Davis. OWCN’s Director Dr Mike Ziccardi is also here as part of the team, stepping in wherever needed from seals to dirty birds to the Incident Control Center. They have a National Response Team here that trains yearly.

Oiled Wildlife Center in New Zealand.

For New Zealand the good news/bad news is that there has not been a spill that has impacted large numbers of animals – the Rena has been called the worst environmental disaster in New Zealand history – so their one weakness is that there is not a lot of real world spill experience on the team. This is why they asked International Bird Rescue to help. We have had a strong relationship with the New Zealand program for a number of years, networking, exchanging information, collaborating on workshops at conferences and, during the Prestige spill response in Spain, bringing in Massey’s then team leader Richard Norman as part of our wildlife team to gain some real world international response experience. Two years ago I was also invited to participate as one of the instructors for yearly oiled wildlife core team training at Massey University and so already knew many of the wonderful team we are working with now.

Curt Clumpner
Preparedness Director
International Bird Rescue

Stay tuned for more updates from our team in New Zealand in the coming days

M/V Rena Live Wildlife Data as of October 24, 2011
Oiled Live Little Blue Penguins 107
Un-oiled Live Little Blue Penguins 186
NZ Dotterel 60
Pied Shag 3
White-Fronted Tern 1
Grand Total Live At Facility 357

5 thoughts on “Oiled Wildlife Response is a Team Sport”

  1. Thanks for keeping us informed and for all your assistance there. I look forward to your next post! MS

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