The Secret Life of Sea Turtles

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Advanced Sea Turtle Necropsy Workshop held at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. The goal of the workshop was to build capacity for sea turtle response within the West Coast Region for NOAA/NMFS Stranding Network partners. The lectures and lab were funded by a grant that Dr. Heather Harris was awarded through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Ocean Health Initiative.

Attendees of the Advanced Sea Turtle Necropsy Workshop: Photo by Heather Harris

Dr. Harris put together an outstanding meeting where professionals interested in the welfare of sea turtles gathered from all over the United States, Canada and Mexico to network, share cutting edge information and practice new skills. On Day 1, we learned more about the secret lives of sea turtles through lectures that highlighted recent discoveries. Some of the topics included:

  • Where do sea turtles forage?
  • How do they travel from place to place?
  • How and where do they get into trouble?

Learning about the secret life of sea turtles

In the afternoon, Dr. Brian Stacy, National Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network Coordinator, provided us with the latest innovative techniques to gain the most information from sea turtles that die at sea or that strand alive, but are too sick or injured to be saved by sea turtle rehabilitation organizations. The most useful information is obtained by performing thorough necropsy exams. A necropsy is an autopsy performed on a dead animal. The goal of these exams is to learn as much as possible from deceased sea turtles in order to save more live turtles.

Learning to learn more from each sea turtle

On Day 2, we put everything that we learned on Day 1 to the test by performing full necropsies on several dead, stranded sea turtles. While some turtles died from “natural causes” such as cold stunning from inadvertently swimming in waters that unexpectedly became too cold, most of the deaths were caused by a variety of human interactions such as entanglement in fishing gear, strikes with boat propellers and intestinal obstruction after eating plastic.

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Even though it is scary to think about all the dangers that sea turtles must avoid on a daily basis, it is reassuring to know that there are so many dedicated professionals working hard to save them. Along with my Oiled Wildlife Care Network colleagues, I am so grateful that we have the opportunity to work with and rely on our Affiliated Agency and Member Organization personnel to help protect California wildlife. If you want to learn more about what you can do to help save sea turtles, click here. It takes a village!


Full Stream Ahead!

Hey there! I’m Sam—the newest member of the OWCN management team. I joined the team in February as the Wildlife Care Specialist. For the first time since last fall, our Care Operations stream, as well as the rest of the OWCN management team, is fully staffed! Our 2019 team is the largest in the network’s history with 12 response staff, 5 support staff, 43 member organizations, and over 1,300 registered responders. I am honored to be joining all of you in protecting California’s wildlife — especially today — California Wildlife Day.

I entered this field back in 2010 when I did a summer rehab internship while earning my bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Conservation at the University of Delaware. Since then, I’ve worked in bird rehabilitation clinics in Delaware, Hawaiʻi, and Idaho. I spent three years with Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, Inc.’s Oil Program responding to and preparing for spills along the East Coast and inland. Most recently, I was the Wildlife Rehabilitation Manager at the Hawaiʻi Wildlife Center. I’ve had the privilege of washing a wide variety of species over the years — each with their own distinct challenges — from silent salamanders to shrieking tropicbirds (imagine standing next to a blaring car alarm).


Sam kayaking in her home state of New Jersey

While I’m not new to the world of oiled wildlife response, I’ll always have plenty more to learn! I’ve been taking advantage of all the OWCN webinars on I also attended the Basic Responder Training at the Estuary and Ocean Science Center and took last week’s 24-hour HAZWOPER class at The Marine Mammal Center.

When I’m not at work, my family and I enjoy fostering shelter pets, kayaking, and adventuring with our leash-trained cat, Atlas, who is an ambassador for the American Bird Conservancy.

I’m looking forward to visiting other member orgs and meeting more of you in the near future!

— Sam


Sam and Atlas the adventure cat on the Big Island



Individual Oiled Birds

We all know what typically happens when there’s an oil spill: the spill gets reported to the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), OWCN is activated (if there is wildlife involved), and then personnel from our Member Organizations are deployed for reconnaissance, rescue, and rehabilitation. But what happens when someone finds an oiled bird and no spill has been reported?

OWCN has an Individual Oiled Bird (IOB) Program for exactly this situation. It serves to alert us to animals that are oiled, provide some financial support for the care of these birds and facilitate practice and ongoing evaluation of our protocols. When one of our Member Organizations receives a bird with oil on it and reports it to OWCN, it gets added to our IOB spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is monitored by OSPR and OWCN to assess if the number of oiled birds seems unusual or suspicious. “Unusual” includes there being more than three oiled birds from the same general area in a single day, or one or more oiled birds per day from the same area for three consecutive days. If this is seen, a series of events are triggered, the first being communication between OSPR and the OWCN team.

OSPR and OWCN discuss whether an immediate analysis of samples is warranted, and if so, samples are sent to the OSPR Petroleum Chemistry Lab (PCL) for oil fingerprinting (identification of the origin of a particular sample of crude oil by its chemical composition). A representative sample, including oiled feather samples from birds from the different areas affected, as well as from the span of dates are typically selected.

In the meantime, more precise data on the numbers and locations of birds recovered are updated on the Individual Oiled Bird spreadsheet, and a report is submitted to Cal-OES (The California Office of Emergency Services). Results from the PCL are usually back within 24 hours, and there we have our answer…whether the oil is from natural seepage, or whether there is an unreported oil spill. If it’s natural seepage, then we continue to offer support to our Member Organizations as they care for these individual oiled birds, and if it’s from an anthropogenic source, OSPR makes the call to activate OWCN.

During the first two weeks of February, we saw an uptick in the number of IOB’s coming from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, which eventually produced more than 50 oiled birds. Following our schematic above, oiled feather samples from 13 birds were sent to the PCL, which determined that the oil was natural seepage, presumed to have been amplified by the recent storms. In the past few days, we are again seeing “unusual” numbers of IOB’s, 27 so far, from the Monterey area. Oiled feather samples are on their way to the PCL for testing as I write this and we are hopeful this “event” will end soon.

We are so thankful to all of our Member Organizations that have been hard at work rescuing and rehabilitating these birds!

– Lorraine



Inspirational videos for your weekend…

We are excited to share a new video featuring OWCN and Director Mike Ziccardi. Produced by science and tech media company Seeker, the video explores response techniques used during Deepwater Horizon, particularly chemical dispersants, and how OWCN’s research of the effects of those dispersants on wildlife can help shape future response efforts. You can view the video below, or check it out at our website.

We also wanted to share a great video to celebrate World Whale Day (which is tomorrow, February 16th!).  Our colleagues with the NOAA Fisheries National Marine Mammal Stranding Network work tirelessly to aid any observed entangled whales.  Watch them in action below…

Stay dry out there, and we hope you have a fantastic weekend!

-OWCN Management Team

Training on all Levels

Today, we had the opportunity to assist Mike in teaching 16 veterinary students about oiled wildlife response. These are students who have expressed an interest in studying zoo and wildlife medicine. For many of them, it was an introduction to oiled wildlife response and to some of the roles veterinarians play in that response. Today’s training focused on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Intake & Processing, and Cleaning. The students also had an opportunity to tour the facility while learning about how an animal moves through the different stages of the rehabilitation process. We had a great time teaching them and they enjoyed learning about oiled wildlife response and modeling their PPE!


As part of our training program responders become familiar with our core webinars, Basic Responder Training, HAZWOPER, and many of the other trainings we offer. Beyond these, we do trainings for more focused groups as well – such as the vet students today.  Training is one of the most important things we do, as it allows us to expand and maintain readiness. As we expand where we respond and the species and waterways we are responsible for, we have to grow and adapt our trainings, too. The students we worked with today may play a role in a future response.


–  Danene and Greg



At 9:18 am Monday morning the OWCN Senior Team received a heads-up text from Julie Yamamoto at California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) alerting us to an accident involving a tanker truck earlier that morning at Dutch Flat on I-80. As you might imagine whenever we get a text that includes “this is not a drill” the adrenaline spikes. At 9:19 the whole OWCN Management team here in Davis looked down as our phones beeped for a Group Me message from Mike Ziccardi with the information from Julie and instructions to confirm we have received it. (How does he type so fast?)

    Blog Julie Y text Dutch flat IMG_5530.jpg                Mike text Group me Dutch IMG_5529.jpg


Immediately those of us who don’t know where Dutch Flat, CA is headed to Google Earth or Maps to get an idea of the location, topography and access roads and then check the temperature and weather at the site.

Dutch flat.jpg

Kyra led a quick informal discussion with the some of the Readiness and Field Operations staff who were working at the Boneyard and came up with a contingency plan to be ready to immediately deploy an initial Wildlife Recovery team directly from Davis if we were activated.

Cal Spill Watch 10;31.jpg


At 10:21 CDFW Cal Spill Watch tweeted a report of the incident and a photo of the wreckage. As we waited for more news, we discussed potential species impacts, wildlife survey recovery methods in steep terrain, equipment needs, and potential care operations locations as we celebrated a staff birthday with lunch out.

Just about the time our burgers and fries arrived, so did an update tweet from Cal Spill Watch detailing efforts in the investigation and the plan to construct a barrier to contain the spill and keep it from the nearby creek when the rain (forecast for later in the day) arrived.

As the day went on and our lunch digested with no call to activate or even formally stand by, our blood pressure and heart rates settled back to normal. While the efforts to remove the truck and clean up the environment continued, we stood down and went back to the daily work of our team. Checking and maintaining equipment, replacing or improving, arranging trainings, and doing all the little things that make it possible to be ready to roll when the call or text lets us know that “this is not a drill”. Waiting for that next jolt of adrenaline those words bring to responders of all kinds including us here in Davis and all of the Member Organizations up and down California.

Cal Spill watch last.jpg


PS Later Monday night we learned that the driver of the truck died in the crash. Although it appears at this time that the damage to the environment was much less that it could have been, we recognize that for the family and friends of the driver it could not have ended worse. Our thoughts are with them today.

Year End Reflections

There is nothing quite like the exciting beginning of a fresh year.  I personally enjoy using the calendar as an excuse to reflect upon the last year, relishing the high points, learning from the low and forming a vision of hopes and goals for the year to come.

21-positive-new-year-quotes-162019 is in its infancy, and for our OWCN Management Team here in Davis, we have new team members and a revived energy to enhance our readiness, extend our outreach, strategize novel research initiatives and remain ready to respond. But as one of my favorite John Wooden quotes states “Nothing will work unless you do”, so our team met last week, rolled up the sleeves, and reviewed our 2018 efforts while also building our 2019 goals.


As of 12/31/18, the Oiled Wildlife Care Network boasts 43 Member Organizations, with over 1,300 registered responders in our database. If you are curious about what that distribution looks like throughout the state of California, see the graph below (click here to learn more about CDFW Regions)


The primary goals of our team meeting were to assess the status of the Network to assist in developing our 2019 training calendar, as well as evaluating our training program to identify key revisions we plan to tackle this year.  Our discussion covered Member Organization engagement, online training webinars, in-person trainings (24hr HAZWOPER, Basic Responder Training, and Oiled Wildlife Specialist), large events such as the full deployment drill and Oilapalooza and even a brainstorm session on the top tier of the pyramid – Manager Training.

While we didn’t solve every riddle, the meeting was an overall success as we closed the 2018 chapter, and created a revitalized and unified vision for 2019.  Keep an eye out for the 2019 OWCN training calendar and other important key dates to consider, which will be finalized and posted in the next couple weeks!