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.
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?
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.
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.
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!