Sea otter research

Last week, a few of us had the opportunity to help out with a large, collaborative study on sea otter biology.  Led by Tim Tinker of USGS (United States Geological Survey), biologists, divers, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and graduate students converged in Big Sur to capture, sample, tag, and remove instrumentation from sea otters involved in a long-term study.  I said it was a collaborative effort, and I wasn’t kidding . . . . besides USGS and OWCN, there were folks from UCSC, California Dept. of Fish & Game, US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center in Santa Cruz (yes, a lot of acronyms!).

Kyra helping out with the boats.

There were people assigned to help with identifying otters from shore, divers to capture the animals, boat drivers to bring animals to shore, a veterinary team to anesthetize and examine the otters, and perform surgery for implant removal, biologists for taking measurements and samples, and enthusiastic assistants to scribe and generally run to and fro, ensuring that things went smoothly.  Kyra helped on one of the boats, and Emily and I were on shore at the mobile vet lab.  Although fortunately none of these otters were oiled, it was a great opportunity for OWCN staff to increase our sea otter capture and handling skills, as well as a way to get to know sea otter experts (who would be a huge resource in the case of a spill!).

Monterey Bay Aquarium staff bringing a sea otter from the shore to the mobile vet lab.

We successfully captured five sea otters, two of whom had surgery to have implants removed and three of whom were new animals who just needed sampling and flipper tagging.  It was a great chance for Emily and me to get more comfortable anesthetizing sea otters, and for all of us to get a better feeling for how sea otters are captured and processed.

Sunset at Big Creek beach

It took a lot of dedicated people to make it work, but aside from some minor boat breakdowns (which I’ve come to learn are inevitable whenever boats are involved!), everything went incredibly well.  It was a privilege to spend a few days in such a gorgeous place, even if we did have to survive without cell phone reception!  A spill involving sea otters would be devastating, but we are much better prepared now that we have participated in this effort last week.


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