Taking a closer look at sea otters in the Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough Sea Otter Study

A dip net is used when capturing sea otters by boat. (Photo: Cindy Serraino)

With sea otter captures at Elkhorn Slough wrapping up, scientists are excited about successfully capturing 20 sea otters in three days. While asleep under anesthesia, these southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) underwent physical exams and had their weights and measurements taken. Sample collections of blood and fat were taken for testing to help researchers study the levels of contaminations found in the sea otters living in the slough.

Scientists in the sea otter alliance, which includes the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and Monterey Bay Aquarium, along with researchers from the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, are working together to understand how and why the sea otters use the slough and whether they are being affected by pollutants in the water.

Elkhorn Slough Sea Otter Study

Samples are collected for testing many things, such as levels of contamination. (Photo: Cindy Serraino)

This project is expected to last three years, with the first part involving sampling, tagging and implanting VHF radio transmitters for tracking the otters. The second part of the study involves monitoring the diet, habitat use, behavior, movements, health, and survival of the study animals using radio telemetry and observational field techniques.

The information will give biologists information about what the otters are eating, what environments and habitats within the Elkhorn Slough are critical for their well-being and survival and how they fit into the estuary food web. According to research biologist Tim Tinker, U.S. Geological Survey and Principal Investigator of this project, this research will provide a new understanding of the significance of sea otters in estuaries and how their return to the Elkhorn Slough may actually affect the health and resilience of seagrass and saltmarsh habitats.  The data collected from this study will also provide valuable information to help the recovery of this federally threatened sea otter species so well known to California.

Elkhorn Slough Sea Otter Study

A comfortably sedated sea otter receives a thorough physical examination. (Photo: Cindy Serraino)

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Seaotters.com is dedicated to raising awareness about California's threatened sea otters and the role research plays in the species recovery and conservation. It's a collaboration of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, U.C. Santa Cruz, U.C. Davis, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, among others. Seaotters.com is also home of the world's first HD live stream of southern sea otters in the wild.