Researchers from USGS, Monterey Bay Aquarium and other institutions recently concluded sailing the Olympic Coast of Washington to study sea otters as part of the Pacific Nearshore Project investigating coastal health. Team members shared their field experiences through journal entries that they sent home regularly.
Opinions expressed by guest bloggers do not necessarily reflect those of the USGS.
Pacific Nearshore Project
Washington Expedition – August 9, 2011
Darcie Larson, Seattle Aquarium
My final day. I got to spend the whole day on the Tatoosh. It was especially enjoyable because for part of the day we were anchored next to one of the rocky islands that is home to nesting gulls, pigeon guillemots, tufted puffins, and even some brown pelicans that may have been sitting on nests as well.
The barking of California sea lions and the growling of the Steller sea lions was our background music, and soon the playful Stellers came out to investigate our boat. They were taking a very close look at the swim step on the stern and I was just waiting for one to hop up and join the team! I imagined putting him to work as a research assistant but wasn’t sure his flippers would do the job.
However, we soon discovered that the Tatoosh’s current location was a little bit too far away from where the Lucy M and Blue Dragon were searching for sea otters as we were having a hard time picking them up on the VHF radio, so we said good-bye to our sea lion buddies and motored to a new spot.
It was a bittersweet day for all as the dive teams captured and released the last of the targeted 30 animals for the Washington portion of the study. After many months of planning and coordination the captures are done!
The team will go out again tomorrow to do observations of sea otter feeding from shore and then they will pack up and go home, when the real work begins, as project chief Jim Bodkin laughingly told us. Analyzing the data and then putting it all together to figure out what is going on in the nearshore areas from Alaska to southern California -- it will be a Herculean task.
As we cruised back to the marina on Tatoosh I took one last long look at this amazing scenery and thought again how lucky I was to be a part of this research project, but also how lucky I am to live close enough to drive out anytime I want to visit and see those sea otters bobbing around in the kelp beds. I think everyone who visits this place realizes how special it is and how important it is to protect it -- I hope our work will help contribute to those efforts.
In the meantime, my part of this project will continue as I educate my colleagues and the volunteers at the Seattle Aquarium, and we in turn educate Aquarium visitors about the Pacific Nearshore Project. The Aquarium’s captive otters -- Lootas, Aniak and Aada -- serve as ambassadors for their wild cousins, inspiring understanding of the marine environment that the wild sea otters, and really all of us, depend on.
Come next week, I’ll return to work tired -- but inspired!
Darcie Larson is the interpretation coordinator at the Seattle Aquarium. She is collaborating on outreach and education efforts for the Pacific Nearshore Project.
Expedition photos courtesy of Darcie Larson and the Seattle Aquarium.
The Pacific Nearshore Project is a multinational, multiagency project investigating sea otters as health indicators of coastal waters and marine resources from California north through Canada and Alaska. The project is led by the U.S. Geological Survey with key research partners from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Seattle Aquarium, University of California, University of Idaho, University of Wyoming and California Department of Fish and Game. For a full list of sponsoring agencies, research blogposts, otter photos, please visit the project homepage at http://on.doi.gov/nearshore.