Researchers from USGS, Monterey Bay Aquarium and other institutions are currently on a three-week expedition sailing Alaskan waters to study sea otters, as part of the Pacific Nearshore Project investigating coastal health. During their voyage, researchers will be sharing their shipboard life with us through journal entries that they’re sending home regularly.
Editor's Note: No researchers were harmed in the writing of this journal entry.
Pacific Nearshore Project
Alaska Expedition Day 14 - May 30, 2011 - Yamani Cove
Brenda Ballachey, USGS Research Physiologist
Day 5 of our captures along the outer coast of Baranof Island, and all aspects of the work continue to go well. Today is our first day of full sunshine, which is glorious but which brings with it stronger winds from the north-west, and rougher waters, so in fact the overcast and light drizzle of the past few days are preferable for working conditions. Even with calmer weather, working on the outer coast with large swell is very different from working in the more protected waters farther northeast in Port Althorp, where we were last week.
Here, we started in Whale Bay, and have worked north to Necker and Crawfish Bays. Sea otters hereabouts are locally abundant (groups of a dozen or more not uncommon, but many areas with no otters), and we feel confident that we are targeting animals at the periphery of the population. We have caught a number of mom-pup pairs, including some females with very large pups that we think were born last fall, and that are larger than some adults in other populations.
The fish samples have all been collected and otoliths (ear bones) removed, which later will be evaluated to give us information about productivity in the ocean and the nearshore. The folks collecting foraging observations are also getting lots done -- they have watched the otters chowing down on a wide variety of invertebrates.
Yesterday was one of the expedition member's birthday, and our lovely and talented cook made us a cake in celebration, decorated to look like his face…including blueberries for the eyes and toasted coconut for the whiskers… which had us all chuckling.
Also yesterday, project co-leader Keith Miles took a brief dip in the ocean, unintentionally… right at the Alaska Gyre, and when he got back on board, he was dripping wet and grinning from ear to ear, with clearly no harm done! Today, both Captain Greg and Ben took intentional dips, taking advantage of the sunshine and relatively warm temperatures.
I went for a great walk on Yamani Island at the end of the day and found many fabulous wildflowers, although I think in 2-3 more days there will be even more blooms. One marshy area close to shore was filled with hundreds of shooting stars and cinquefoil, and in the evening sun they looked so beautiful. I also saw river otter and mink tracks on a wonderful stretch of sandy beach.
The forecast for tomorrow is for more beautiful blue sky, but continuing wind… so the dive teams plan to get a very early start in the morning, hoping that conditions will be calmer then.
Brenda Ballachey is a marine mammal physiologist with the USGS Alaska Science Center. She is based in Anchorage.
The 2011 Alaska Expedition set sail on May 17 from Juneau, Alaska. Read the expedition press release here.
Images from the 2011 Alaska Expedition (Credit: USGS)
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