Remembering the 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill

From clockwise, an oiled Grebe on the beach off San Francisco Bay, one of the ships involved in the collision in the fog, and IBRRC founder, Alice Berkner.

Hello everyone,

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Oregon Standard Oil Spill, the massive 800,000 gallon spill that occurred in San Francisco Bay in 1971. The concept of International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) was born in the midst of the spill because it was clear way back in 1971 that oil spills were becoming a part of our reality, and after a quick review it was evident that no organization had developed effective techniques to care for oiled birds. IBRRC was created to do just that – develop techniques and protocols to humanely treat and rehabilitate oiled birds.

a href=””>IBRRC’s Founder Alice Berkner, and a handful of others, came up with the concept of IBRRC while trying to help the more than 7,000 birds that filled warehouses around the Bay Area. Most of those birds died, but their deaths were not in vain. The demise of these birds only encouraged people to try harder, and by April of 1971 IBRRC was incorporated as a non-profit organization.

Since then, tens of thousands of animals have been recovered and given a second chance thanks to IBRRC and because of one person’s vision and focus. On behalf of all of us who have followed in your path, thank you Alice for your passion and vision, and for creating IBRRC.

Jay Holcomb
Director Emeritus
International Bird Rescue Research Center

5 thoughts on “Remembering the 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill”

  1. I started the voluntary activity to clean up the oil and get Standard Oil to do something about it, before the tankers gushed out everything. My roommate in San Rafael, Eddie Lejarza and I started calling others and then quickly KRON TV and KPIX to request help. If the TV stations have kept the archives they can trace the telephone # they displayed on the screen as ours. We were 21-22.

    I was returning into Marin over the GG on my motorcycle the day after the collision. I stopped to observe the mess. I was angry and upset that the black gunk was gushing out and heading to the shores and out the gate. It was going to ruin the shores of what i had called home for my entire life to that point. The ships were just sitting there and NO ONE was doing anything. I was fed up with Standard Oil as I’d grown up with the Richmond refinery pollution since being born in San Rafael in ’49.
    So Eddie and I decided to do something about it. We suddenly realized we were the point persons and the calls poured in day and night – eventually from all over the world.
    We quickly created a name-Marin Ecology something ( Center as I recall).
    In less than 2 weeks thousands and 10s of thousands of people had swarmed the bay perimeters and out Point Reyes etc. We called on truck owners to haul hay bales and even pizza delivery to feed volunteers.
    Volunteers came from all over the state and eventually out of state.
    Finally Standard Oil called us to negotiate a “call off the dogs”. shortly after a break your Standard Oil CCard demonstrations in downtown SF became very successful and got enough press to look serious. A Scandinavian company oil company called us and tried very hard to get Standard oil to at least talk to them about solutions to the spill problem that they had used successfully. It included a biologic life that ate the oil, and boom methods to keep a large % of the crude oil from drifting.
    S.Oil completely ignored them.
    When the clean up momentum became so large, biology, animal science professionals became seriously involved and the experiments to save the birds started showing signs of success , Eddie and I went back to our regular jobs. We felt we had accomplished what we set out to do.- and then some.
    Not long after, I left San Rafael for SDSU and got married not long after.
    Eddie pursued a medical career I think.

    Less than 10 years later I discovered that someone had taken credit for the name and founder of Marin Ecology Center. That irritated me as it was completely false. I didn’t have time to pursue it as I was raising 3 little boys and a career etc.- visiting Marin from San Diego only occasionally.
    I don’t think its uncommon when one looks far enough back into incidents or events that have made a bigger than average mark in time or history to find that the inceptions often came from more common and average people like Eddie and I.

  2. I just recalled going to Richmond with my Dad to pour “donated” mineral oil on oiled birds after this. I wrote to friends that “maybe it wasn’t the right protocol, but it was all we had.” I’m grateful to you for having encouraged more advanced procedures. And thanks for being the triggerer.

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