Response Steps

OWCN beach recovery

Response Steps

  1. RECONNAISSANCE: The goal of “reconnaissance” is to gather as much information as possible on what types of animals are in the region and where they are in relation to the spill or the projected area of impact. This information can be obtained by various methods, including by air (plane, helicopter, drone), by water (boat), or by land (walking or All-Terrain Vehicle). The information gathered is transmitted to the Wildlife Branch Director, who can then disperse this to the different response groups that would most benefit from this type of information, especially the Recovery and the Hazing groups. 
  2. HAZING: The best way to help wildlife during a spill is to keep them from getting oiled in the first place.  This sounds simple, but it’s not, since there is a variety of factors that need to be considered before scaring animals away from an oil spill.  For example, you don’t want to scare an animal that is close to the oil spill into the spill itself.  That would just be making the problem worse.  Knowing how the species is going to respond to the various hazing or deterrence methods, prior to trying to scare them, is crucial.  Also, knowing where breeding colonies are and what stage of breeding they are in, is important for making sure that once again, we are not impacting a greater number of animals.  If, for example, sea lions are at a rookery and there are lots of pups around, if we employ some hazing methods meant to scare, we may end up with a wild stampede, which could seriously injure and kill the younger or smaller animals.  We use a variety of methods for actively scaring or pre-emptively preventing animals from getting oiled, from easy to set up reflective tape, to more intensive measures such as propane cannons that make loud booms.    
  3. RECOVERY: When there is an oil spill, specially trained responders go out and collect oiled wildlife. They wear protective clothing that keeps the oil off of their skin. Once oiled animals are captured, they are then transported to a field stabilization location or a medical facility for care.
  4. FIELD STABILIZATION: When a medical facility is far from where the animals are getting captured, an intermediate step is sometimes necessary in order to give the animals a head start in reversing the effects of oiling.  This step provides some initial medical care or “first aid” to help increase their chances of survival.
  5. INTAKE & PROCESSING: When the oiled animals get to the medical facility they go through the “intake & processing” procedures. This includes a full physical exam, just like you get when you go to the doctor. Workers will check their body temperature, how much they weigh, whether they look healthy, and how much oil is on them (among other things). This is also when a medical record for each animal gets started, so that workers can keep track of how the animals are progressing. Workers will also collect evidence from each animal that comes in to the facility, both dead and live. Oil samples and a picture are taken for each animal and stored in a secure location in case they are needed for a future legal case.
  6. PRE-WASH CARE: The washing procedure is stressful for the animals, and a very weak animal may not survive.  After the oiled animals have gone through intake, and before they can be cleaned, they need to receive initial care to help make them strong enough for the cleaning process. During pre-wash care, the animals are warmed up and given food and water. You might be surprised to learn that the oiled animals are not washed right away. Responders wait at least 48 hours before they clean the oil off of animals. Working with mammals adds an additional complexity since most must be anesthetized in order to make it safe and easy to clean. When an oiled animal comes in to the medical facility, they are usually cold, hungry, thirsty, and weak.
  7. CLEANING: This is the step where the oiled animals are washed. Birds are washed in tubs of warm soapy water. When the water gets dirty, they are moved to the next tub. They keep getting moved to clean tubs, until all the oil is off them and the water is clear. Sea otters and fur seals have warm soapy water poured on them and massaged into their thick hair coats. Other mammals and sea turtles usually have soap directly placed on the oiled areas and scrubbed. Then they are rinsed off. This step is very important, because all the soap needs to come off, or the animals’ fur or feathers may not go back to normal and they may not be able to become waterproof. It takes a long time to clean an animal. Birds may take over an hour to wash and rinse, and marine mammals may take several hours.

  8. CONDITIONING: A cleaned bird usually takes 3 to 5 days of conditioning to be a candidate for release. This process can take much longer if the animal has injuries. During conditioning, an animal is put in an outdoor pen or pool. Here they can spend time getting used to being in the water, and spend time preening or grooming, which is important for them to become waterproof. They are given food and water and watched carefully, so that they become strong and ready for release.

  9. RELEASE: Once an animal is completely waterproof, healthy, and is acting and eating normally, then it can be released. The animals are always released to a safe and clean environment, where they won’t become contaminated with oil again.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

NRDA is a legal process that federal agencies, together with the states and Indian Tribes, use to evaluate the impacts of oil spills on the natural resources of an area of impact.  “Natural Resources” includes wildlife, the habitat, as well as public use areas. For more information, please go to: