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Scientists at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center study the many ecosystems of the Pacific Southwest. Follow our expeditions and projects through this outreach page, and learn more about your local landscape with our library of Outreach Factsheets and photos. Thanks for joining us!

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Photos from Pacific Nearshore Project expedition to Forks, Washington in August 2011 --Photographer: Darcie Larson/Seattle Aquarium
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Field Journal: Nearshore Project Washington Expedition, August 7
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 7, 2011
Forks, WA
Darcie Larson, Seattle Aquarium

Today I got to combine two things that I love to do:  hiking and watching wildlife! I was asked to assist the shore observing team and today involved an eight mile round-trip hike to a site that was a likely sea otter hang-out. 

The shore observers use a spotting scope and binoculars to scan the kelp beds looking for a raft of resting otters.  Once we spotted them, we used our radio to communicate with the dive team so they can sneak up and hopefully capture some animals. We were lucky to immediately spot a raft of resting otters and were able to keep an eye on them until the dive team got into place and successfully captured two of the animals

On the drive out to Cape Alava, you can immediately see that this is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the state of Washington, with almost every available parking area absolutely packed with cars and RV’s. I have a friend whose family has been coming to Forks since she was a little girl and she will be out here in a couple weeks with her son to continue the tradition. 

It’s easy to see why -- the rugged, remote coastline is dotted with dramatic rock formations, beaches that transition from sandy to rocky and back again, piles of driftwood and a carpet of seaweed in red, green and brown. Wildlife abounds here, from seabirds like black oystercatchers and sandpipers, bald eagles, cormorants, pigeon guillemots, brown pelicans, harbor seals and of course the star of the show (for us at least) -- the sea otters.

Photos from the August 2011 Washington Expedition of the Pacific Nearshore Project --Photographer: Darcie Larson/Seattle Aquarium

Humans have used this area for thousands of years, as several area tribes called this region home: the Makah and Quileute nations among others. They fished for salmon, hunted marine mammals, and used the plants and animals found here to sustain themselves throughout the year, and many of these traditions continue today. Sportsfishermen come to the Olympic Peninsula from across the country to fish for salmon, while commercial and Tribal fishing boats fill the marina at La Push in the heart of the Quileute Nation. 

Although you do find the occasional piece of plastic debris on the beach, this area appears at first glance to be relatively pristine. But beneath the surface, is it really? 

You don’t have to be a scientist to know that human activity can have an effect on the environment, even a place as remote as Cape Alava. We need to better understand these effects, and that’s what this Pacific Nearshore Project is all about. Understanding will hopefully lead to solutions that will ensure that the beauty and wildness of the area can be preserved for our children’s children to enjoy on future summer vacations, for fishermen to land those big salmon, and for the Tribes of the areas to carry on their traditions as they have for thousands of years. 

-- Darcie

Darcie Larson of the Seattle Aquarium --Photographer: Seattle AquariumDarcie 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

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