Sea otter captures

Amid planning for Oilapalooza, a number of OWCN staff members have been heading down to the central coast to participate in a multi-agency/university/institution project designed to investigate the health of the southern sea otter.  It seems especially appropriate this year that Oilapalooza is going to be held at the “otter Taj Mahal,” as we sometimes call the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center.  Nancy, Kyra, Emily, and me all spent time in the Morro Bay area this month to provide expertise to the project, as well as enjoy time with friends and colleagues on this gorgeous section of the California coast.

The shore at San Simeon

Although the project is not explicitly about oil spill response, the scientists, students, and technicians involved in the project would all fill key roles in a response should the need for one arise (quick, find some wood for me to knock on!), so it is essential that we all work well together and practice our sea otter capture, handling, and medical skills.  This effort is being led by Dr. Tim Tinker of the US Geological Survey (that’s the research branch of the federal government), with plenty of help from UCSC, Monterey Bay Aquarium, CA Fish & Game, NOAA, and UC Davis folks, among others.  It’s a great example of multi-institutional cooperation (yes, we all CAN get along!) and represents a supreme exercise in organization, especially by Tim and also Michelle Steadler of the Aquarium.

Michelle hauling an otter up the beach for processing.

Marissa and Emily with their flowers.

Speaking of organization, once they arrived on shore the otters went through a carefully choreographed process to get weighed, anesthetized, measured, sampled, and instrumented.  Without the veterinary technicians, Marissa from the Aquarium, Summer from the Santa Barbara Zoo, and our own Emily, we would all have been lost.  We try never to take them for granted, but as this was National Veterinary Technician Week, we tried especially hard to show them how much we appreciate them!

The best part of working with animals is sending them home, and this was no different: watching the otters swim away was always the most exciting part of the process!  Although the team is not quite finished with captures, at last check all the animals who had been handled and released for the project had been sighted and appeared to be doing well.  Over the next couple of years, we’ll be learning an enormous amount from these sea otters; let’s hope we gain this knowledge before it’s too late to save the species.

A sea otter is released back to her habitat.

The OWCN staff is excited to head down to Santa Cruz and see all our Network friends.  Oilapalooza in T-9 days!


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