2021 funding recipients make a difference for sea otters

sea otter pups in nursery crib during rehabilitation

Seattle Aquarium

Remotely operated vehicle Led by Dr. Zachary Randell and Dr. Shawn Larson, the Seattle Aquarium is beginning a long-term research and monitoring program to investigate the resilience of Washington’s nearshore marine ecosystems. More specifically, they’re looking into whether sea otters help stabilize those ecosystems during climate change-related disturbances. Sea otters, being a keystone species, have long been studied for their beneficial effects on kelp forests, promoting biodiverse and healthy coastal ecosystems. While the possibility of sea otters having an even greater impact during climate change seems reasonable, that question can’t be answered without further study.

While Washington’s outer coast is an excellent environment for sea otters, its rugged and remote coastline makes study a bit more challenging. Today, however, there are a variety of technological resources that allow field biologists like Randell to survey the seafloor in areas inhabited by sea otters. One of these resources is a remotely operated vehicle, better known as an ROV.

Being successfully selected for a Sea Otter Foundation & Trust grant, the aquarium purchased a Blue ROV2 along with the accompanying accessories to make the ROV operational in the field. They have tested the ROV at a depth of 70’, and they are currently preparing to complete a pilot study with the ROV in 2022.

Elkhorn Slough Foundation

Volunteer using iPad for data collection at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research ReserveThe Elkhorn Slough Foundation’s Reserve Otter Monitoring Program (ROMP) has been observing the sea otters of the Elkhorn Slough in central California for a number of years. The program has made valuable contributions to sea otter research.

A grant from Sea Otter Foundation & Trust allowed the purchase of iPad tablets for the ROMP observers and those iPads have replaced old-style paper data sheets. Observers can quickly enter a variety of data, refer to reference maps, and avoid calculation errors and redundant entries since data are automatically summarized. Observers access a complete set of updated electronic datasheets.

“I love using an iPad,” said Susan Rosso a ROMP observer. “It’s easy to use and I avoid having to manage multiple paper datasheets; it’s especially useful on a windy day.”

Ohio State University

Dr. Risa Pesapane discusses sea otter nasal mitesOhio State University Professor Dr. Risa Pesapane has been studying the effects of nasal mites on sea otter respiratory systems for many years. Our grants have supported her work from the beginning and this cycle she is investigating the survivability of nasal mites in zoological facilities where disinfectants are used to clean surfaces within facility enclosures. The current portion of her study will help determine ways to migrate the nasal mite effects on sea otter respiratory systems in zoos and aquaria.

Alaska SeaLife Center

sea otter pups in nursery crib during rehabilitationWith our funding assistance, the Alaska SeaLife Center continues to make improvements to its sea otter nursery. The team built a new crib to house infant sea otters when they arrive at the rehabilitation facility. The new crib replaces a 20-year-old model and gives the staff better access to the sea otter pups while creating a snug fit for the air mattress to cradle the pups during their frequent naptimes.

The center has also been upgrading the nursery floor with Plas-TEAK decking material creating a safer, more lightweight floor that is easy to clean while also textured to prevent slippage for staff and the sea otter pups being rehabilitated.