Every year we issue funding awards to programs and projects benefitting sea otters to ensure their recovery. So far, our 2023 recipients have had a productive year and their work continues into the fall.
Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium
We are excited to announce that the new state-of-the-art aquarium facility at Kansas City Zoo featuring sea otters opened on September 1. Sea Otter Foundation & Trust’s grant made significant contributions to relocating the sea otters to Kansas as well as provided funding to purchase equipment to care for the sea otters in their new home. The sea otters arrived in August and they have been named Owin and Matti, after Margaret Owings and Jim Mattison, two conservationists who helped prevent the extinction of southern sea otters.
Kansas City Zoo is the second facility in the central United States to receive sea otters in recent years. We look forward to bringing updates on Owin and Matti as they settle into their new digs. The sea otter aquarists are already enjoying them and their usual sea otter antics!
University of Alaska: Fairbanks (Sea Otters and Oyster farms)
Professor Brenda Konar and Graduate student Emily Reynolds have been doing extensive field surveys and collecting valuable data to understand the behavior of sea otters in relation to oyster farms as they explore their study entitled “Sea otter use of oyster farms in Kachemak Bay, Alaska.” The project has characterized sea otter behavior in and around oyster farms compared to non-farm areas and has documented differences in behavior between the two areas.
During the first half of 2023, Emily Reynolds and her field team conducted over eighty (80) hours of scan surveys and targeted foraging observations. Preliminary results from the June  scan surveys indicate that sea otters spend more time resting in oyster farms (49%) compared to non-farm areas (27%), while they spend more time foraging in non-farm areas (26%) compared to farms (17%).
University of Alaska: Fairbanks (Sea Otters and Dungeness Crab interactions)
PhD student, Carter Johnson, is exploring the interactions between sea otters, Dungeness crab, and humans in Southeast Alaska. As Southeast Alaska’s sea otter population has grown following their reintroduction in the 1960s, concerns have emerged about potential negative impacts on invertebrate populations, including Dungeness crab. However, despite a large sea otter population, the commercial Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast Alaska has remained relatively consistent.
Our grant will help Johnson test several hypotheses that may explain how sea otters and Dungeness crab appear to coexist in Southeast Alaska. Specifically, he is investigating whether Dungeness crab avoid sea otter predation through the use of a depth refuge.
To date, Johnson has traveled to many different sites in Southeast Alaska where he has deployed crab pots to collect Dungeness crab data. He has also conducted shore-based sea otter foraging observations. The sites being investigated are in northern Southeast Alaska: Port Frederick, Point Couverden as well as in Glacier Bay National Park. Data collected from these sites combined with data Johnson collected in 2022 will provide a more comprehensive understanding of the interactions between sea otters and Dungeness crab in Southeast Alaska.
University of California: Santa Cruz
Since receiving an award from the Sea Otter Foundation & Trust, Lilian Carswell, a PhD student studying at the University of California: Santa Cruz has been working on the study entitled Habitat Use, Stressors, and Social Structure in an Estuarine Sea Otter Population. The primary purpose of this project is to obtain information that will inform sea otter reintroduction planning. However, the project is also expected to result in information (i.e., on chronic stress) that will be useful for sea otter conservation more broadly.
Recently, the efforts of Carswell and the ROMP citizen scientists were featured on CBS News Bay Area.
In the fall of 2022, sixty-three (63) sea otters were individually flipper-tagged and released. Prior to each animal’s release, samples of blood, tissue, hair and vibrissae (better known as whiskers) were obtained for future study.
Since last fall, Carswell, along with a group of citizen scientists from the Elkhorn Slough Reserve Otter Monitoring Project (ROMP), have followed these individually marked sea otters along with three pups who were too small to flipper tag the previous year. The group has obtained information on the tagged otter’s body condition, survival, reproduction, habitat use, foraging behavior, and social behavior. We have obtained 1,400 resights of these animals. Resights are observations in which we record a sea otter’s location, reproductive status (whether a female has a pup or not), behavior (including territorial or mating behavior), group size, and the identities if known, of other sea otters in the group.
Carswell, the ROMP scientists, and a group of industry professionals are getting ready for a busy fall 2023 – plans are forming to tag additional study sea otters in the central region of California as this multi-year study continues into 2024.