Oil Spill Report - On Location

We touched base with a Cali Paddler who recently was up at the Santa Barbara oil spill with her work to help with efforts and document the impact. Read about what she saw first hand, what is being done, and what we can still do.

[Cali Paddler] Hi Jennifer, first off, thank you for your efforts this past week in Santa Barbara. As a paddler who has paddled and raced up there in those waters, you have a special perspective of how unique and beautiful that region of the state is.

[Cali Paddler] Tell us briefly who you went up on behalf of?
- On Saturday, May 23rd a small group of marine mammal biologists from Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NMFS/NOAA) went up to the Santa Barbara oil spill that occurred near Refugio State Beach.

[Cali Paddler] Describe for us best you can the scene when you arrived. 
(i.e. the water, the land, plant life, the animals).
- Our group first arrived at El Capitan State Beach. This was the eastern most point of where the oil spill had effected at that point. The most noticeable sign that the area had been affected by the oil spill was the smell. It was extremely strong and the winds coming from the west were bringing more of it down from the original spill sight. In this location we did not see the typical piles of tar on the beach because the oil was primarily still in an oil slick form on the water. It is important to realize that the sight of tar on a beach or rock is not the only indication of oil in the water and please be careful. Our other senses play as huge role in that something might not appear right and so we don’t just rely on sight.

[Cali Paddler] What role(s) did you play while there, and what were other folks doing that you saw first-hand, or know of that were taking place.
- Our role was to photograph marine mammals (primarily bottlenose dolphins and gray whales) present in the area that could be impacted by the oil spill. The California Coastal Stock of bottlenose dolphins typically stays within one kilometer of the coastline and ranges from Point Conception, CA to as far south as San Quintin, Mexico. They are genetically different from offshore populations and consist of approximately 500 animals. Gray whales are currently finishing their northern migration to Alaska and many of the animals traveling still at this point are mother/calf pairs. Using telephoto lens the goal was to acquire high resolution photos that could yield individual identification for each animal. This will help in the long-term monitoring of the animals within the spill site.

[Cali Paddler] Please describe the progress being made. What are they projecting about how long the cleanup might still take?
- Several actions were being taken to clean up the oil spill. It was clear from the shore that containment booms were being used in a stationary position (keeping oil slicks from reaching the beach) and in mobile position (each end attached to boat and being pulled through the water). Several other boats were in place helping with the spill and there were a massive number of workers cleaning up the oil that had reached the beach. All of the workers on the beach were in safety gear to protect them from the oil. Days were long and hot working on the water especially for the workers in the haz-mat gear and we we're very grateful for the efforts. The process of cleaning up an oil spill is very long and does not just happen overnight. In addition, animal rescue teams were in place and while we were on site they rescued a California sea lion that had been impacted by the oil.

[Cali Paddler] Who should folks contact who are still wanting to help volunteer on site? How can folks in other parts of the state help? Donations, supplies, messages to share?

- Here is a recent article with the information on who to contact to help:

[Cali Paddler] Thank you so much Jennifer, we are grateful for everyone's efforts and the time to share with us what you saw.


Jennifer is a Research Biologist in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division at Southwest Fisheries Science Center (NMFS\NOAA). When she is not traveling California and documenting our sea life, she can be found paddling outrigger canoe and SUP.

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