Just a quick addendum to Chris’ great article on otters that she posted on October 18th.
In early October, several of OWCN’s staff traveled down to the central Coast to participate in a field project that will monitor the behavior and health of California sea otters. This work is important because California sea otters live at the southern extent of their range, so they experience different natural and man-made impacts than their northern cousins in Alaska. This monitoring project is part of a long-term effort to assess the health of the otter populations and determine the influence of human activities and diseases on the population. This endeavor is a huge undertaking. Over 3-dozen professionals from USGS, USFWS, CDFG, Monterey Bay Aquarium, OWCN, and many other organizations have joined forces to help the otters.
Otters were captured in the ocean and transported by boat to a nearby pier that was outfitted with a special trailer especially designed to care for otters. Once on land, each otter was sedated. Then body measurements were taken and blood, hair, and saliva samples were collected to determine the health of the otters, their population genetics and whether they have been exposed to toxins. OWCN staff helped capture and transport otters, collect biological samples, and instrument otters with radios and data loggers so their movements and diving activity can be followed. Within a few hours of its capture each otter was released where it was found. Another whole team of biologists is responsible for tracking all of the otters on a daily basis. The information we are learning is helping us to make decisions that will help both people and otters living along California’s coast.
In addition, the experience gained by OWCN staff during this project is directly applicable to any response to rescue oiled sea otters. Participation in this endeavor has improved OWCN’s readiness to respond should there be an oil spill that affects otters in the future. This project also gives OWCN the occasion to support research in a manner other than our grants program with the active participation of our staff. An additional bonus is the opportunity to support the OWCN goal of Reaching Out by cultivating our relationships with agency colleagues and Network Members, thus strengthening our ability to work together more smoothly through the crisis mode that ensues during large oil spills. We are grateful for the opportunity to work such a dedicated and inspirational group of scientists and conservationists. We are also honored to be able to work so closely with such a charismatic species as the southern sea otter.