Stori Oates’ Stories are Full of Tortoises, Science, and Teaching

September 28, 2017

Many people know Stori Oates as “one of the science teachers” (assuming you’ve never personally had her as a teacher). Some might know her as Bill Meyer’s wife. Others recognize her as the lady that brought the tortoises to the circle last year… and who has some as pets. If you have ever had Oates or Meyers as a teacher, you have almost definitely seen at least one video or picture of one of their many pets. In total, they have seven tortoises, two cats, and a tripod dog (a dog with three legs). Most of these animals have been adopted by the Meyer/Oates family due to Oates’ extreme empathy for animals of all kinds.

Growing up on the beach of San Diego, Oates instantly fell in love with the ocean. By the time she was five years old, she knew she wanted to get involved with science. Throughout high school, she took every science class she could (although she made sure to point out that excluded physics) and decided she wanted to get involved with veterinary medicine. It was not until she attended the land-locked University of Santa Clara that she knew she needed to work with marine animals. 

Oates sits on a Galapagos Tortoise as a young child.

“I am kind of cut off right now – no more animals are allowed to come in.”

The tortoises “have little personalities” Oates says, smiling. The first two she adopted, Grandpa, who is at least 100, and Little Dude, who is probably his offspring, both came into her life when she was helping a friend. The aunt of her best friend since kindergarten died, and her six tortoises needed a place to go. Her friend took all of them at first, but eventually had to give the males up; Oates welcomed them into her home. The next addition to her animal family came soon thereafter. “Our acupuncturist’s receptionist had a friend who’s a teacher and had to get rid of her tortoises, so we took those tortoises, they’re Russian Tortoises … Boris the Russian Tortoise,” She says. Zorba and Mama became part of the Oates/Meyer family in March of 2012, and then came the next two turtles, One and Two. Aaron Fulk, originally from San Diego, helped Oates by serving as “tortoise transport”–the two tortoises were put in the back of Fulk’s Prius, and he attempted to drive the eight hours from San Diego to Fairfax, without his dogs attacking the tortoises. She summed it up nicely, saying, “We don’t have kids, we have animals.” When I ask her if she considers her pets her kids, she takes a moment, looking at me with extreme confusion and disgust, possibly one of the only moments in the interview when she’s not laughing. “No,” she responds.

She loves her name.

Her dad is a recently retired dentist who had a patient named Story Landis. He convinced Oates’ mother that their first-born daughter was going to have that name. Oates’ mother gave Oates “Christine” as a middle name, just in case Oates did not like the name “Stori.” Oates laughs while telling me this information, adding, “my dad is a creative dude.” When I ask her if she ever considered changing her name, she quickly responds point blank: “No, never. Yeah, even when I got married.” When Oates and Meyer went to City Hall to get their marriage license, the woman behind the counter asked if Oates was planning on changing her name. he responded: “No – my name is Stori Oates, it’s who I am. I’m not taking Bill’s name, and she’s said she couldn’t accept the paper until I went to talk about it. So Bill and I had to have another conversation to make sure that I was sure that I didn’t want to change my name. We had to go sit for ten minutes and discuss it.” She looks very frustrated (reminiscing back to the moment?). We pause. She continues: “But no, I’ve never wanted to change it.”

She never wanted to be a teacher.

She became a teacher because the grant work she was doing was soft money, just to make ends meet. Then realized she liked teaching. She says it made more of a difference and contributing to the community by teaching next generation scientists. Meyers had been teaching at MA for 15 years, Oates has now been for 5. She started subbing, when needed, then realized: “Woah, these kids are like aliens.” She says that students at Marin Academy are unlike students anywhere else, especially where she went to high school. She says that she has never met students so eager to learn. She says she wouldn’t be teaching anywhere else.

Oates explains a water-testing device to students at McNears Beach.

She likes cheesy, shark centered movies.

Yes, Oates has an obsession with really bad science fiction movies having to do with sharks. Some of these movies include Sharknado, Sharktopus, and Deep Blue Sea.

Her research was cited in The New York Times.

If you read her Marin Academy biography, you will see that the last sentence reads: “She has great stories to tell about the otters she has come across during her research.” I ask her about this and she takes a long pause. She asks me if I’m sure I want to know, telling me that it’s probably not the best idea to talk about that. I insist and she explains. The best way to explain it is to read where she is quoted in the article. It reads: “[Stori Oates’] autopsies of seal corpses found bite marks and lacerations on the nose and face, along with tearing consistent with sexual trauma.” There is a long, uncomfortable silence. She explains that these sea otters grabbed seal pups, mated with them, and ended up killing them over time. The worst part is, after raping them to death, the sea otters continued to have relations with the deceased pups.

One of her papers was recently accepted in the Marine Pollution Bulletin. This paper was about dog poop on beaches. The paper studied Carmel City Beach and Moss Landing Beach, and the fecal pollution, not only in the air, but also its impact on the water. She tells me that 34 percent of scat that was left on the beach had been bagged but still was left on the beach. Yet she makes sure to mention that there is little to no difference between regulated beaches and non-regulated beaches.

Before we end, I ask her if she could give a speech, replicating a senior speech, what she would talk about. She responds: “Wherever you’re at right now is where you’re supposed to be.” She explains that it doesn’t matter what high school or college you go to, and it doesn’t matter what job you have; everything you do is okay. No matter what happens, you can make things work – it may be a lot of work, but don’t be afraid.”

1 Comment

One Response to “Stori Oates’ Stories are Full of Tortoises, Science, and Teaching”

  1. Moriah Buckley on October 18th, 2017 1:13 pm

    I’ve heard there has been a spike in people researching Stori’s published works on seals since the posting of your article, Mackenzie. I really enjoyed reading this and learning more about this gracious scientist!

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