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 6, 2011, Part I
Darcie Larson, Seattle Aquarium
My name is Darcie Larson and I’m the Interpretation Coordinator at the Seattle Aquarium. Most of my job involves educating Aquarium visitors, but I’d have to say that one of the coolest things I’ve been able to do for my job at the Aquarium so far is help out with this study on sea otters. My role in this project is to work on education and outreach but this time, I’m going to get hands on with sea otters (literally!).
I arrived after 9pm last night to our "base camp" which is a University of Washington facility called the Olympic Natural Resources Center that has dorms, labs, and a conference facility. The rest of the crew has been here for a few days already and long days at that. When I arrived they were just sitting down to dinner after a 14 hour day out on the water! So I had a sense of what was to come.
We headed out the next morning at 7am and I was on the boat crew -- the Tatoosh is a research vessel owned by the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is overseen by NOAA and they are lending us their boat for the sea otter capture project. It's kept in La Push which is about a 20 minute drive from Forks, so we arrived there not long after 7 am and after fueling up the boat we headed out.
We were joined by two smaller boats that would take the dive teams, the Lucy M and the Blue Dragon. It was a little cloudy or foggy when we first got to the marina in La Push but it soon began to clear. I had been nervous about the swell out on the ocean, I have a sailboat that my husband and I sail in the protected waters of Puget Sound, and I have also worked on whale watch boats up in the San Juan Islands, but I have less experience offshore or in the open ocean so wasn't sure how my stomach would hold up.
Fortunately my colleague Dr. Shawn Larson (no relation to me, although sometimes people refer to us as the "Larson sisters") gave me the advice to make sure and take some anti-seasick medication as soon as possible in the morning. If you take it once you start feeling sick, it's too late! At any rate, even though we experienced 5-6 foot swells on the way out to Sea Lion Rock, I felt A-OK and was very relieved!
I really wanted to be able to concentrate on enjoying the scenery (amazing) and the wildlife. Right off the bat we saw where Sea Lion Rock got its name as there were sea lions everywhere -- on every available rock surface, swimming in the water at the base of the rock, and as soon as they saw us, they sent a welcoming party.
The sea lions here are young males and mostly Steller sea lions, with a few California sea lions mixed in. It can be tricky to tell the difference especially in the young ones but when they start "talking" that's when you know -- if they bark that's a California, if they make a growling, roaring kind of noise it's a Steller. The curious sea lions came right over to the boat and thoroughly investigated us, as you can see from the photo I got of one saying "cheese" for the camera.
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 of Stellar sea lions 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.