Washing Penguins in New Zealand

I have been home just a few days and am already feeling nostalgic about the time I spent in New Zealand. It is safe to say that no one really hopes for an oil spill. However, when you get “that call” asking for your availability, various emotions and thoughts immediately occupy your mind. All the while the present, day-to-day reality seems to quickly fade away in a surreal manner.

Deirdre Goodfriend, Mike Ziccardi and I joined up at the Auckland International Airport early in the morning and took a short flight to Tauranga. After a brief stop at the Incident Command Center (ICC) to receive our work identification badges, we were shuttled to the Wildlife Center.

We hit the ground running. I joined Michelle Bellizzi in the Wash and Rinse Room. We washed 26 birds that day and 42 the following. As birds progressed through the system, there was a need for one of us to perform conditioning/waterproofing duties outside at the pools. Michelle called “dibs.”

As the days and weeks proceeded, I became increasingly pleased with the wash and rinse team that was being formed. In between teaching them about washing and rinsing, I tried to make some time each day to get to know each of them. We had several countries represented in our room, from the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany and Italy to Australia and of course New Zealand.

Oil spills are extremely stressful and at times depressing. I started each day with a smile and thanked everyone at the end of each day for helping the birds. I tried to keep our “wash and rinse world” a pleasant, peaceful, and zenful atmosphere.

In Michelle’s previous blog, she mentions the challenges in washing Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor). Yes, there were some minor technical adjustments that had to be made when dealing with a bird that has virtually no neck and relatively small wings. Also, penguins have more feathers than most other birds, with about 100 feathers per square inch, so this makes the wash and rinse process a little more demanding.

With all this being said, I departed the New Zealanders, my fellow response team members, and the penguins feeling grateful and privileged to have assisted in this world team effort and especially proud of being a member of the International Bird Rescue Response Team.

Susan Kaveggia