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A look back at past oil spill animal rescues

With news of a 126,000-gallon oil spill in Southern California, some are reflecting on the past challenges of oil spills.

SAN DIEGO — With news of a large oil spill disrupting the Orange County coast, some people are reflecting on past oil spills. 

When it comes to oil spills, it’s an all-hands-on-deck operation to rescue animals. It’s something Kevin Robinson prepares for.

Robinson is a senior animal care specialist at SeaWorld, with a focus in animal rescue. In fact, he’s been at this for 44 years.

“Forty-four years working in the animal business has got lots of great memories,” said Robinson in an interview.

One of those memories is when he helped with the recovery efforts for The Exxon Valdez oil spill back in 1989. A tanker spewed about 11 million gallons of toxic crude oil into the water. 

That’s when SeaWorld answered the call to help Alaskan sea otters. Animal care workers stabilized the otters and then brought them to SeaWorld San Diego for further rehabilitation.  Actually, Robinson said some of those otters called SeaWorld “home” for several years. 

"It was determined that they were ineligible for release because of various medical conditions that when the veterinarians and the rescue teams up there evaluated them, they decided there were certain other health conditions that made it not likely that they would survive in the future in the wild,” said Robinson.

However, Robinson said the most challenging operation of his career to date was the oil spill in Refugio up in Santa Barbara County in 2015. SeaWorld  - which is a part of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network -  sent several employees into the field to help a variety of animals.

"The volume of animals that came our direction - there was birds and there were marine animals also,” said Robinson. “They put a lot of teams with a lot of different expertise into a small area.”

Robinson said it can sometimes take a few days to stabilize and remove the oil from these animals, but these are the situations they prepare for year-round.

"It’s very much a sense of ‘mission accomplished,'” said Robinson.

According to a spokesperson for SeaWorld, all of its locations combined have rescued about 39,000 animals over the last 55 years. SeaWorld said it is on standby to help with the oil spill up north if needed.

WATCH RELATED: Wildlife official: 4 oiled birds collected so far in OC spill, 1 euthanized