All posts by Randall Waugh

What Happens to Oiled Birds When They Land in Oil? How Can We Help Them?

A clean and waterproof Common Murre.


When oil spills on the water, especially a thicker oil like crude oil or bunker fuel, it can get on the feathers of seabirds (these are birds that spend most of their time on or in the water and little time on land).  The oil coats the feathers, which then can’t interlock, and the birds are thus prevented from staying waterproof (sort of like a hole in a dry suit).  The cold water can then get to their skin and causes them to become hypothermic and come onto land to stay warmer.

The best we can do for these birds, once they get oiled, is to rescue them and bring them in for initial care. Rescuing oiled birds is challenging.  It takes training, thinking out of the box, and care.  When an oiled bird sees you approaching on the beach, their first instinct is to run for the water.  Some of these birds don’t do well on land, such as Grebes and Loons, which have their feet set way back on their body, as opposed to dabbling ducks like Mallards that have their feet in the center of their body.  Even so, it can surprise you how fast they can move towards the water.  So how do you catch an oiled bird?  Techniques vary depending on the terrain, the tides, the amount of oiling the bird has, and if they can fly.  To catch an oiled gull takes a very different strategy as they can fly (so you might try to bait them) as opposed to a Common Murre (who need a long build up on the water to take off, but can run fast towards the water).

Search & Rescue practice on the beach sneaking up on a “bird” (the person with the pink ball).

One tried and true method is to stalk them on the beach with nets.  We developed a fun exercise that helps people understand what it is like to try to catch an oiled bird. In the photo at the top of this article, you can see two people practicing sneaking up on an oiled bird (in this case there is a person hiding with a ball i.e. “the bird”, her head is to the very left side of the photo).  In the photo to the left you can see another angle of stalking the bird.  The object is for the two/three people who are looking for “the bird,” to slowly sneak up on the bird and catch the “bird/ball” before it reaches the water.  This involves coordination between the people stalking the bird, using non-verbal signs, thinking like a bird (such as if you aren’t looking at me directly, you are not as much of a threat as when you stare at me), staging yourselves with your nets so that if you flush the bird, you still have a chance to catch it.

Removing a “caught bird” (the pink ball) from a net at a Search & Rescue exercise on the beach.

There are other methods to catch birds, such as proactive capture, herding birds into a specific area, or even working to catch them from boats (you need to be skilled and experienced to catch birds from a boat).  One of the worst things you can do when you try to catch an oiled bird is to chase them.  This will only wear them out, deplete what little energy they have, and if they are scared enough they won’t come out of the water and may drown.  Sometimes you have to leave a bird and come back at a different time of day, say at a lower tide.

Once a bird is captured, it needs to be transported to an initial care center.  This could be a place that is set up in a building, or perhaps at a mobile care unit trailer (there are two trailers in Washington State).  At IOSA we have many of the initial supplies needed to set up an initial care center.  During initial care we warm them up, examine them, flush the petroleum out of their system, give them fluids, and wipe off any oil that is blocking their nostrils or is in their mouth.  Then we give them a quiet place to rest until they can be transported to the Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Unit, which will be located somewhere on the mainland.  While we did do washing, rinsing and drying of oiled birds back in 1989 at the San Juan County Fairgrounds, we only had a small number of birds (35).  The water requirements alone for washing and especially rinsing is very large, as well as it has to be held in a tank and disposed of, as well as kept at a temperature of around 102º to 106ºF.  We just do not have that capability here in the islands.


setting up pool 2
IOSA Volunteers set up salt water pools as part of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Mobile Response Unit.   IOSA has a crew of volunteers that have been setting up these units since 2011 and can be dispatched to set up the Units in the initial days of an oil spill.

There are  Wildlife Rehabilitation Mobile Response Units (for 100 birds each) that are available to be set up within 24 hours in a warehouse on the mainland.  These units have the needed electricity and water capabilities for longer term care.  These units can also be expanded on, but are a good start for taking care of oiled wildlife.  Once the Mobile Response Units are set up, oiled birds can be sent there for treatment, stabilization, and then washing/rinsing/drying.  When the birds are healthy, clean, and have spent time in salt water pools, they are released back into the wild, away from oil.   Click here for more information on these Mobile Response Units.


To be able to help oiled wildlife in an oil spill, training is needed in either Search and Rescued of Oiled Birds or Initial Care of Oiled Birds, along with additional Hazwoper Safety Training.

The Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife along with the United States Coast Guard and other organizations present an Eight-hour Hazwoper Safety Class for Oiled Wildlife Responders every spring in Port Angeles and Everett (usually in February or March).  If you are interested in attending one of these training, you can sign up as a volunteer on the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife website or at the Dept. of Ecology .  If you are on IOSA’s mailing list you will also be notified of these trainings, as well as our trainings.


Oiled Bird Initial Care Training Class


IOSA Receives Funding for New Round of Oil Spill Response Trainings in 2018/2019.

Do you love to work on the water?

Would you like to learn how to protect a shoreline from oil?

Want to help search for and do initial care of oiled birds?

Would you like to do support or help with logistics at an oil spill?

Come learn the basics of oil spill response at an Islands’ Oil Spill Association training session!  

Thanks to funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which we were recommended for by NOAA, IOSA has an ambitious list of trainings coming up between now and October of 2019.

Here is the schedule for 2018.

CANCELLED  — June 2nd, Saturday, Search & Rescue of Oiled Birds on Lopez

In this class, we will teach you how to search for and rescue oiled birds, provide initial care, practice handling live ducks, and learn of safety concerns.  We will also spend some time on the beach practicing how to do search and capture of oiled birds.


June 9th, Saturday  Oil Containment / Geographic Response Plan (GRP) Drill at Nelson Bay, Henry Island

This containment drill and boom deployment will take place on the west side of San Juan Island. The structure of the drill will include initial training/review of different techniques, assignment to boats and specific tasks, use of the incident command system, a safety briefing, and use of an oil spill scenario.  This geographic response plan strategy is SJI-23-HEN and you can find it at the Ecology website, click on San Juan Islands/North Puget Sound and go to page 4-39 .  If you have a boat you would like to use at this drill or at any other oil containment drill, please let us know.

Setting oil containment boom to divert oil away from a sensitive bay.

September 8th, Saturday  Oil Containment / Geographic Response Plan Drill on the West Side of San Juan Island

This drill will be similar to the above drill at Nelson Bay, but will be at a different place on the west side of San Juan.  There are a number of Geographic Response Plan (GRP) strategies in the area that you can check out at the above link.  See map on page 4-18 of the GRP’s.

September 21st, FRIDAY    Geographic Response Plan Drill at Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island with Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC)

This is a special drill that will be done in coordination with Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, as we may end up working with them on a spill on the west or north side of San Juan County in the future.  The strategy for this drill will be SJI-11-STU (see page 4-38 of the GRP’s, see above link).  Also note that this drill will be on a FRIDAY, not our usual Saturday.

Boom across east entrance Prevost Harbor
Oil containment harbor boom attached to east side of Prevost Harbor.

October 13th, Saturday  Search & Rescue of Oiled Wildlife on Orcas.

This class will be held on Orcas Island.  Look at above description of the training on June 2nd for more information.

Oiled Bird Search, Rescue, and Initial Care Training at Lopez Center.

November 3rd, Saturday  Hazwoper Safety Training on Lopez Island.

This will be a Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training.  This training is necessary for anyone wishing to respond to an oil spill where you may be near oil (for wildlife and containment response).  We are updating this class and it will include an oil spill scenario.

Practice pulling someone (in this case our dummy Ray!) up onto a boat after they have fallen into the water.  (Remember, always use your knees when lifting!)

November 10th, Saturday  ­Air Monitoring / Site Safety Training

In this class you will learn how to do air monitoring at an oil spill for substances such as Hydrogen Sulfide and Benzene.  There will also be instruction in site safety.  You will need to be able to be contacted quickly in the event of an oil spill, because air monitoring must be done before we can work on the scene.  This training is focused on people who live part or full-time in the San Juan Islands.

IOSA responders on the Sea Goose read the gas meter and record their findings.

Spring of 2019, Deterring Orca from Entering Areas of Spilled Oil.

This exercise will expand on the Deterrence Exercise held in May of 2018.  We will incorporate lessons learned in the last exercise, and train new people in this hazing technique of using the oikomi pipes.   In the event of a large oil spill many of our regular responders will be working doing other tasks, so we need people who would just focus on deterring Orca from areas of oil.  If you are interested in protecting the Orca and have your own boat, please come join us next year.  You can sign up below and we will inform you of the date around the end of the year.

IOSA responder hits an oikomi pipe during an exercise to practice deterring Orca from an oil spill.  Photo by Lindy McMorran

Providing Support for an Oil Spill Response.

One of the areas of an oil spill that is very important is support and logistics.  In a larger oil spill help is needed in many of the following areas:

  • Transporting responders, equipment and oiled birds by car or boat.
  • Providing support at the Command Center, Staging Area, or Oiled Bird Initial Care Center.  This can be everything from signing people or equipment/supplies in and out, preparing snacks, lunches, beverages, being on call for first aid, filling out forms, calling responders to work the next day . . . The list goes on and on.
  • Logistics:  What equipment is needed where?  How do we get it there?  Where do we order it from?

While we don’t have any trainings set up in this area at this time, we would like to get a list of people who are interested in support functions and have a meeting sometime in the near future.  Please sign up below if you are interested in helping in a support function at an oil spill.

For more information on any of IOSA’s trainings, contact us at

Preregistration is required for all of IOSA’s trainings and drills.

**If you are interested in helping to protect the environment and animals of the Salish Sea, please sign up below.**



A beautiful Common Murre, fully waterproof!



How to Deter Orca from an Oil Spill

Islands’ Oil Spill Association held an exercise on May 12th to test a method to deter Orca from areas where there are large amounts of spilled oil.  The exercise was held in conjunction with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Washington State Department of Ecology as part of the Governor’s Executive Order to protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

The method used was to hang oikomi pipes (8’ long pipes made with reverberant metal) from the boats and then the pipes are struck with hammers or rebar at two second intervals.  The pipes make a discordant noise that is not harmful to the whale’s hearing.  The boats line up beam to beam, holding their positions relative to the other boats.  One of the interesting parts of the exercise was determining the best way to deploy the pipes from the boats in such a way that 80% of the pipe was underwater and people were still able to be in a comfortable position to strike the pipes for long periods of time.

IOSA volunteer demonstrates using the Oikomi pipes.

Many different types of boats were used and it was a challenge with the different size boats and varying shapes of the keels to keep the boats in as close to a line as possible.  The volunteers did a great job of figuring out the best way to hang the pipes from the boats.  The boat captains were very skillful in keeping their boats lined up.  Another strategy was tried with the boats lined up in a U shape to see if that worked better in terms of disseminating the sound outwards.  Dr. Val Viers of Orcasound Lab recorded the sounds with his hydrophone so they can be analyzed later (at IOSA’s last exercise five years ago the sound levels were from 118 to 132 decibels).

In Barnes Lake, Alaska, this method was used to move Orcas out of an inlet with a shallow entrance that the whales were reluctant to cross.  The method was successful in moving the whales back into the ocean.

Eight boats from San Juan County and one from Whatcom County participated in the exercise with 37 volunteers.  Participants came from Washington State Parks, Phillips 66, Pacific Whale Watch Operators, Whatcom County Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and all over San Juan County.  IOSA thanks everyone who gave of their time to participate in this exercise!

Don Noviello of Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife describes how to use an Oikomi Pipe to IOSA volunteers.

Please contact us if you are interested in participating in our next exercise in 2019 (date yet to be determined).  We need more people and boats participating that would not be doing oil spill containment or search and rescue of oiled wildlife in the event of a large oil spill.  If you are a boat owner or whale watch operator who would like to participate in this exercise, please fill in the below form and we will notify you when we set a date for the next exercise.

This exercise was funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation 

Equipment & Training Grant Received from Washington State Dept. of Ecology

San Juan County Emergency Services and IOSA received a grant this year for the following equipment and training from Washington State Dept. of Ecology

The equipment we will be receiving includes:

  • Two gas meters for monitoring air quality around an oil spill (adding to the two we already have);
  • New marine VHF radios;
  • New Ipads with navigation software for our two main response vessels (Sea Goose and Green Heron);
  • Maintenance on the four yellow oil spill equipment trailers we received from Ecology about eight years ago.

DOE trailer 22 on Lopez Island

Our False Bay drill on May 20th, 2017, is also paid for through this grant.

Thank you to Washington State Dept. of Ecology for this generous grant!

HAZWOPER Safety Training on November 19th, 2016, Orcas Island.

Would you like to assist at an oil spill in San Juan County?  Then come to our Safety Training class on Orcas Island on November 19th, from 11:30am to 5:45pm.  In this class you will learn what you need to know to keep yourself safe during an oil spill.

Imagine a large vessel starts leaking crude oil in Rosario Strait.  The oil moves down Rosario Strait hitting Sucia Island, the north and west sides of Orcas, Blakely, Decatur, and the west side of Lopez.  Responders would be needed to set containment boom at Sucia Island and other spots.  Responders would also need to be out looking for oiled wildlife.

In order to be a responder during an oil spill, you need HAZWOPER Training.  Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training (HAZWOPER) is a requirement for all oil spill workers whether you are working to contain oil on the water, on the shoreline, or are involved in search and rescue or basic care of oiled wildlife.  In this training you will learn such things as:  how to rescue someone who has fallen overboard, what are the signs of petroleum products exposure, safety hazards to look out for, the correct use of response equipment, what personal protection equipment do you need to wear, what is involved in the incident command system, and what are your rights and responsibilities, among other things.

Rover spill 1993 This photo is from an oil spill at the dock at Jackson’s Beach on San Juan Island.  You can see the amount of debris that is in the water, along with the sorbent pads that are soaking up the oil inside the yellow oil containment boom.  In working at this site someone would have done air monitoring to make sure that the air was safe to breathe, you would need to lift pieces of debris and sorbent pads (soaked with oil) out of the water correctly so as not to hurt your back, place bagged oiled sorbents and debris in a decontamination area (which would be constructed on site), and you would need to wear the correct gear to protect yourself from the oil.  If you were out searching for oiled birds on the beach, you would need to know the most efficient and safest way to capture the birds, while looking out for hazards on the beach.


Sneaking up on an “oiled bird” (a person with a ball hiding in the logs) during a search and rescue training.

We invite you to Islands Oil Spill Association’s HAZWOPER class where you can learn all of the above and much more.  With the class, and some take home work, you can receive 8 hours of training, which is the minimum you need to help out at an oil spill.  Please join us for this training where you will learn how to keep yourself safe in responding to an oil spill, as well as learn about oiled wildlife care and oil containment.

Please register for this class by filling out the below form and we will send you information on where the class will be held and other information on the class.


Help us fund the new Green Heron motor! We are so close!

November 10, 2016 Update

People responded generously to our request for help in getting a New Motor for the Green Heron.  With the initial grant from San Juan Islands Community Foundation, plus the monies raised at the San Juan County Fair, we are only $2,700 short of our goal.  If you could help us reach our goal, it would be a great help.  Just click on the contribute button at the upper right!


August 14, 2016

Help us purchase a much-needed new outboard motor for the Green Heron, our 23′ landing craft oil spill response vessel. 

Recognizing the increased needs of IOSA to keep our spill response equipment dependable and ready to go at a moment’s notice, the San Juan Island Community Foundation has offered a matching grant for a special fund-raising campaign for our motor.  This is in addition to the initial $5,000 grant they gave to IOSA.

Green Heron tows oil containment boom to an attachment point at an oil containment drill in Small Pox Bay on the west side of San Juan Island.
Green Heron tows oil containment boom to an attachment point at an oil containment drill in Small Pox Bay on the west side of San Juan Island.

The new motor will replace the 29-year-old Yamaha 115 hp outboard that is currently on the Green Heron.  This vessel is one of the main work boats of IOSA’s oil spill response boats. The Green Heron is one of the two IOSA vessels that would work together to meet the first 2- and 3-hour oil spill response requirements mandated for San Juan County by the Department of Ecology.

How You Can Help!

Donations made to San Juan Island Community Foundation in IOSA’s name during the San Juan County Fair, August 17 through August 20, 2016, will be generously matched by the Community Foundation at 50 cents on every dollar of the first $1,676 donated.

To be able to buy the motor, the funds needed are $8,917 for the motor and installation.

Please help us raise the funds needed for
the Green Heron’s new motor!

In order to be eligible for this matching grant program
Donations MUST be made during the dates of the fair,
August 17-20 (Wed-Sat), 2016.

Also, the donations must be made to
San Juan Island Community Foundation directly:

  • In person at the San Juan Island Community Foundation Fair booth, with a check made payable to SJICF and a note in the memo line stating that it is “for IOSA’s new outboard motor;”
  • A check is mailed, postmarked during the fair dates, to SJICF, noting in the memo line it is for IOSA’s new outboard motor.  Their address is PO Box 1352, Friday Harbor, WA 98250, or;
Attaching an anchor to the oil containment boom.
Responders on the Green Heron attach an anchor to the oil containment boom during a drill at Snug Harbor, San Juan Island.

Please help support our efforts to keep our waters and beaches as clean as possible and help us benefit from this unique matching grant opportunity offered by the San Juan Island Community Foundation.

Most Sincerely,

IOSA Staff and Board of Directors

Responders on the Green Heron attach a tow plate to the tail end of the oil containment boom during a drill.
On the Green Heron, responders attach a tow plate to the tail end of the oil containment boom during a drill.

2015 IOSA Newsletter

Please read our most recent newsletter to get updates on Islands Oil Spill Association activities in 2014 and 2015.

2015 IOSA Newsletter PDF1

2016 Oil Spill Response Trainings – Updated 5/14/2016

May 21st, 2016 Oil Containment Drill — All Spaces Filled Up.

On May 21st, 2016 IOSA will hold the first oil containment drill of the year at False Bay, San Juan Island.

We will practice the Geographic Response Plan strategy for this location.  We have had numerous drills at False Bay and each time we refine our response strategy more.   If you would like to check out the response plan strategy for False Bay, check out this link at Washington State Department of Ecology and go to page 212 out of 247, 



Other Trainings Scheduled for 2016

  • September 3rd or October 29th
    (Date will be confirmed later this summer.)
    Wildlife Search & Rescue and Primary Care Training

    This training in the rescue and basic care of oiled birds will be held in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, OR on Lopez Island.

    Wildlife Care Training
    Wildlife Care Training
  • September 17th and October 1st
    Wildlife Search & Rescue Training
    Oil Containment Drill at Buck Bay

    We are not yet sure which training will be on which day, so if you are interested in either of these trainings, put both days on your calendar and check back here in August.  Or you can fill out the contact form that is above.

    Search & Rescue practice on the beach sneaking up on a
    Search & Rescue practice on the beach sneaking up on a “bird” (the person with the pink ball).
  • October 15th
    Westcott Bay Oil Containment Drill
    In this drill we will be testing out various strategies for Westcott Bay.  To check out the response plan strategies for Westcott Bay, Horseshoe Bay, Garrison Bay and Delacombe Point, check out this link at Washington State Department of Ecology and go to pages 156-157, 160-169 out of 247,

    Oil containment boom deployed at Westcott Bay.
    Oil containment boom deployed at Westcott Bay.

Upcoming Orcas Containment Drill Oct. 10th

A containment drill has been scheduled for Saturday, October 10th, 2015 on Orcas Island.  This is the only drill scheduled for this fall, so make sure to register soon if you wish to attend.   While we would love to have everyone attend the drill who wants to, we do have to limit participants.

IOSA responders on the Green Heron setting an anchor and attaching buoys at a drill.
IOSA responders on the Green Heron setting an anchor and attaching buoys at a drill.

At this drill we will be practicing Geographic Response Plan strategies (specific goals to protect certain  sensitive areas), as well as our regular work of deploying oil containment boom, setting anchors, and working closely with other teams on other boats.

If you are interested in attending this drill, send an email to

Preregistration is required for all Islands Oil Spill Association trainings.

We look forward to hearing from you!

2015 Oil Spill Response Trainings

On April 18th, 2015, Saturday,

We will hold our first on the water Spill Response Drill at
Stuart Island.  This drill will include deployment of oil containment boom as well as practicing various techniques needed during an oil spill response.

If you are interested in this training, please email IOSA at or call the office at 360-468-3441.

Pre-registration is required for this event.

Oil Containment Boom set in a traditional V formation.
Oil Containment Boom set in a traditional V formation.