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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: Birds & Kelp (10/21/21)

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Learn About The Interconnectedness
of Birds & the Oregon Coast

Kelp beds are biologically rich marine habitats supporting a diversity of invertebrates and fish.  Less well known is the use of these habitats by some species of birds.  Benefits to birds continue even after kelp becomes dislodged and washes ashore.  Local photographer Roy Lowe will discuss some of the species you might see using kelp beds in Oregon.

This webinar will take place for free on Thursday October 21st, at 6:30pm PDT. Register below for the Zoom link.

A pelagic cormorant in breeding plumage taken by Roy Lowe.

About The Guest Presenter: Roy Lowe

A resident of Waldport, Oregon, Roy Lowe is a photographer and former board member of the Elakha Alliance.  He was employed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 37 years and was the Project Leader for the Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex upon his retirement in 2015.

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Watch The 2021 Sea Otter Science Symposium

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Thank you to the 100’s of individuals who joined us from around the globe for our 2nd virtual Sea Otter Science Symposium. This year’s focus was on the results from our Feasibility Study draft, discussing the key components when considering a sea otter reintroduction in Oregon.

We invite you to watch all of the individual presentations below from phenomenal scientists including: Dr. Tim Tinker, James Bodkin, Dr. Mike Murray, Dr. Lynn Lee, Dr. Salvador Jogensen, Sara Hamilton, Dr. Alan Shanks, Dr. Shawn Larson, Dr. Jan Hodder, and more! If you’d like to watch more educational videos from our previous events, visit our Youtube Channel.

Day 1: Sea Otter Science Symposium

Introduction + Tim Tinker: Oregon Feasibility Study Takeaways
James Bodkin: Lessons From Other Translocations; Prospects for Oregon
Michele Zwartjes: Regulatory & Legal Framework for Restoration
Mike Murray: Health & Animal Welfare Considerations in Translocations

Keynote Presentation:

Keynote: The Magic & Majesty of Kelp Forests w/ Kyle Cavanaugh, Patrick Webster & Emma Akmakdjian

Day 2: Sea Otter Science Symposium

Lynn Lee: Ecosystem Effects of Renewed Sea Otter Presence
Salvador Jorgensen: Great White Sharks & Sea Otter Restoration
Sara Hamilton: Oregon’s Kelp Forests – Status & Trends
Alan Shanks: Dungeness Crab Life History & Sea Otter Return

Day 3: Sea Otter Science Symposium

Shawn Larson: Genetic Aspects & Benefits of Sea Otter Translocations
Jan Hodder: Habitat Suitability on the Oregon Coast for Sea Otters
Tim Tinker: Oregon Sea Otter Population Model & Recovery Scenarios
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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

2021 Sea Otter Science Symposium (Oct 5-7)

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Join us for all things sea otters, science & fun!

From Tuesday October 5-7, 2021, the Elakha Alliance will host our second ever Virtual Sea Otter Science Symposium.

This year, our focus will strongly revolve around the key findings of our scientific Feasibility Study Draft on sea otter relocations to Oregon. We have an exceptional group of speakers this year, and we hope you tune in from where ever you are in the world, to learn from these intriguing presentations.

Review the agenda for the Symposium below, listed in Pacific Time:

Tuesday October 5

Wednesday October 6

Thursday October 7

  • 1:30pm: Dr. Shawn Larson: Genetic considerations for translocation; conservation benefits
  • 2:00pm: Dr. Jan Hodder: Habitat suitability on Oregon coast
  • 2:30pm: Dr. Tim Tinker: ORSO – Oregon Sea Otter population model and recovery scenarios
  • 3:30pm: Q & A:   All presenters
  • 4:00pm: Adjourn

We are asking participants to provide a $10 registration fee, but scholarships are available for students and others for whom $10 would be a barrier by emailing Chanel Hason, chanel@elakhaalliance.org.

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Renee Davis & Katie Russell Join the Elakha Alliance Board

In September, the Elakha Alliance was pleased to welcome two new Board Members. Both Renee Davis and Katie Russell have a wealth of individual knowledge and experience in the marine conservation field. Please join us in giving them a warm welcome!

Renee Davis.

Renee Davis has worked on conservation issues in Oregon for nearly 25 years. Her career experience includes marine conservation science and policy issues, change impacts on natural systems, and ecosystem services. Until recently, Renee served as deputy director with the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. She recently transitioned her focus to post-wildfire recovery and Klamath Basin issues. During her free time, Renee enjoys hiking, birding, paddling, and being immersed in Oregon’s wild places.

Katie Russell.

Katie Russell is a graduate student pursing her Masters of Environmental Studies, with a focus on education and nonprofit management, at the University of Oregon. After graduating with her Bachelor’s in Natural Science from Loyola Marymount University in 2012, she has been working in the field of animal care and training in Hawaii. She is passionate about conservation and climate change education and currently serves as the board secretary for The National Network of Ocean and Climate Change Interpreters.

(Header Photo: Morgan Rector)

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Sea Otter Awareness Week Presentation (9/24/21)

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Learn About the Cultural Importance
of Sea Otters in the Pacific Northwest

It is hard to appreciate the historical, cultural, and ecological significance of a species that disappeared from Oregon’s coastal waters over a century ago. What has the loss of sea otters meant to Oregon’s indigenous peoples? What does their absence mean to the health of nearshore ecosystems? What might be gained from the return of sea otters to Oregon?

Hosted by the Defenders of Wildlife in partnership with Sea Otter Savvy’s ‘We Were Here’ program, Peter Hatch (Elakha Alliance Board Secretary & member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz) will discuss the history and possible future of sea otters in Oregon.

We invite you to take this stakeholder survey about possible sea otter reintroduction along the West Coast.

This webinar will occur on Friday September 24th at 5pm PDT.


About Sea Otter Awareness Week

Annually, throughout the last week of September, Defenders of Wildlife, Sea Otter Savvy, and CA State Parks come together to celebrate sea otters during Sea Otter Awareness Week. They encourage zoological and educational institutions, governmental agencies and communities to plan and undertake events that highlight sea otters. These activities include sharing stories, disseminating science and generating media that inspire a deeper awareness of these unique marine mammals, their ecological importance and the many challenges they face. View all of the wonderful presentations and events here.

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Jacobsen Salt Co. Honors Sea Otters for 10 Yr Anniversary

To honor the Oregon waters that Jacobsen Salt Co. has hand-harvested sea salt for a decade, they partnered with the Elakha Alliance to help raise awareness and funds for our mission to restore Oregon’s population of sea otters and strengthen our local marine ecosystem.

For every specialty Sea Otter Slide Tin sold, Jacobsen will be donating all profits to support the Elakha Alliance. We are extremely honored and thrilled to be a part of their 10 year anniversary celebration, and we encourage you to order these limited edition Sea Otter Slide Tins (they make great gifts)!

Founded in 2011, Jacobsen Salt Co. is the first company to harvest salt in the Pacific Northwest since the 1800s. Since then it has transformed from a local, small business to a nationally recognized brand as America’s leading salt maker. Harvested from the cold, pristine waters of Netarts Bay on the Oregon Coast, their flake and kosher sea salts have garnered worldwide favor for their beautiful presentation and pure taste by professional chefs and home cooks alike.

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: Pacific NW River Otter: Habitat, Ecology, and Health (7/26/21)

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Everything You Wanted To Know About River Otters

Photo: Heide Island

Most often than not, people mistake thinking they’ve witnessed a ‘sea otter’ on the Oregon coast, when in fact it’s actually a North American river otter. This is why we found it very important to invite Dr. Heide Island to speak about these unique creatures that she’s spent multiple years researching in the PNW. She will touch upon how rescued, captive river otters are informing the ecological and physiological wellness of native otter populations in the Pacific Northwest.

This webinar will take place for free on Monday July 26th, at 6:00pm PDT. Register below for the Zoom link.

Heide D Island received her doctorate in Experimental Psychology with specializations in Comparative Animal Behavior and Behavioral Neuroscience at The University of Montana in 2003. Island came to academics after working in the Alaskan commercial fishing industry alongside her father and as a research naturalist for Pacific Whale Foundation in Hawai’i. Given a background in marine science, ethology, and behavioral neuroscience, she has cultivated broad research interests which include: 1.) Behavioral ecology, especially related to optimal foraging and choice theory; 2.) Animal welfare, principally as it pertains to animal rehabilitation, conservation, and captivity wellness; and 3.) Comparative psychology of anxiety, depression, and boredom as its expressed among human and nonhuman animals.

Photo: Charles Biles

Dr. Island is a Professor of Comparative Animal Behavior and Neuroscience at Pacific University in Oregon and a Senior Research Associate for the Oregon Zoo. She is the Principal
Investigator in a 4-year longitudinal study of Whidbey Island’s North American river otters. Her interests concern the welfare of captive and wild otter populations found in the Pacific Northwest (North American River Otter and Sea Otters). Among rescued and captive populations, Dr. Island is interested in the development of social learning, outlets for natural foraging, and psychological welfare. Among wild otters, her work focuses specifically on Island County marine-foraging river otters, their distribution, diet, foraging patch variability between fresh (e.g., Lake Pondilla, Admirals Lake, Lake Crockett, etc.) and saltwater (e.g., Admiralty Bay, Bush Point, Bell’s Beach, etc.), photoidentification of individual animals, and their genetic pedigrees, as well as their load of persistent organopollutants, collected through non-invasive and salvage sampling. The latter is particularly relevant for understanding the health of the local ecology.

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: Art + Science + Kelp Forests (7/20/21)

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Using Creative Storytelling To Showcase Kelp Forests

Three researchers from interdisciplinary fields of geography, photography, and design advocate for the prosperity of Pacific kelp forests in a webinar hosted by the Elakha Alliance. Kyle Cavanaugh, Patrick Webster, and Emma Akmakdjian discuss the role of perspective in creating stories that spotlight the kelp forests’ return to ecosystem balance, especially with the reintroduction of sea otters.

Kyle Cavanaugh is an Assistant Professor of Geography at UCLA who helped lead the project Floating Forests that uses NASA satellite imagery and UAV technology to map the density and dispersal of kelp forests worldwide. He studies the drivers and consequences of changes in coastal foundation species such as giant kelp forests and mangroves. He is especially interested in what controls large-scale changes in the distribution and abundance of these species. Much of his research utilizes remote sensing (e.g. satellite, aerial, and UAV imagery) to document ecological change over large space and time scales. Visit Kelpwatch to learn more about his most recent kelp research with The Nature Conservancy, UCLA, and UCSB.

Patrick Webster is an underwater photographer based in Monterey, California, capturing imagery of the central coast kelp forests and their inhabitants. He is the social media content creator for the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Emma Akmakdjian is a graduate student and artist at the Design Media Arts Department at UCLA, working to communicate the importance of kelp forests in human and non-human cultures.

This webinar will take place for free on Tuesday July 20th, at 6:00pm PDT. Register below for the Zoom link.

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Crabinar: Will Sea Otters Take a Bite Out of Dungeness? (7/8/21)

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Let’s Talk Crab

Photo: Oregon Coast Aquarium

Dungeness crab are an iconic marine shellfish of great economic and cultural importance to Oregon’s coastal communities and way of life.  The Elakha Alliance is keenly interested in avoiding or minimizing potential conflicts with Dungeness crab harvest when sea otters are returned to their former homes on the Oregon coast.  This “Crabinar” will explore what we know about the effect of sea otters on commercial Dungeness crab harvest elsewhere, the potential for conflicts in Oregon and possible actions that can help to reduce  or avoid conflicts.  The Crabinar will feature a state-of-the art population model used to predict the location and numbers of sea otters in Oregon in the years following restoration. 

This webinar will take place for free on Thursday July 8th, at 7:00pm PDT. Register below for the Zoom link.

Guest Speakers

  • Dr. Alan Shanks, University of Oregon Institute for Marine Biology: life-history and population dynamics of Dungeness crab in Oregon.
  • Tracy Grimes, M.S., San Diego State University: effect of sea otters in California on Dungeness crab catches and effect on young crab in estuaries.
  • Dr. Ginny Eckert, Director, Alaska Sea Grant Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks: effects of an expanding population of sea otters in SE Alaska on Dungeness crab and other shellfisheries.
  • Dr. Tim Tinker, University of California Santa Cruz and lead author of a feasibility study of restoring sea otters to Oregon: considerations of Dungeness crab in the Oregon Feasibility Study, Oregon Sea Otter Population Model and four “what-if” scenarios for possible sea otter populations in 30 years.
  • Shannon Davis, Principal with The Resources Group Economist: potential impacts of sea otters on Oregon Dungeness crab harvest as forecast by four “what-if” scenarios for future sea otter populations.
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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: Dive into a Changing Ecosystem: Kelp Forests & Urchin Barrens (6/24/21)

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What Can We Learn From California’s Ever-Changing Kelp Forest Ecosystem?

Photo: Kate Vylet, Monterey Bay

We are excited to invite Kate Vylet, underwater photographer, scientific diver, and divemaster anchored in Monterey Bay, California, and Josh Smith, Ph.D. Candidate and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California Santa Cruz to speak at our upcoming webinar.

Tucked along California’s coast is a vibrant underwater forest of towering kelp and diverse wildlife. In the last six years, unprecedented outbreaks of purple sea urchins have decimated kelp forests within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, lending several questions: What caused the urchin outbreak? How have sea otters responded? Will intervention and urchin culling enhance kelp recovery? Through underwater photography and observations by Kate Vylet, and a scientific discussion by Josh Smith, this talk will outline how science, art, and community observation intersect to inform the path forward.

This topic correlates directly with the Elakha Alliance’s efforts to reintroduce sea otters on the Oregon coast, where we are also experiencing similar ecological shifts with urchin barrens.

This webinar will take place for free on Thursday June 24th, at 6:30pm PST. Register at the bottom of the page for the Zoom link.

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: The Art of Science and Envisioning Information w/ Skye Morét (6/10/21)

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Understanding Research Through Unique Visualizations

Liina Klauss, Moritz Stefaner, Skye Moret, Perpetual Plastic KŸnstlerin, Artist , Trash , Trash Walk ©Massine

How does one channel a life of marine science and adventure into a career that can help redesign and visualize the stark human-planetary dissonance we see around us today? Skye’s talk will discuss the role of design and data visualization in portraying complex ecosystems, facilitating conversation and participation, in place-making, and as a means of visual storytelling. For those considering a dip into scientific data visualization or communication, or those just interested in beautiful and provocative imagery, Skye will share some tips and tricks and discuss her trajectory from a marine scientist and sailor to her work as an information designer and educator today.

Skye Morét is a data-driven designer and marine scientist. Her diverse background on the ocean—having sailed 100,000+ nautical miles around the globe—fuels her abiding interest in the power of art and design to engage citizens with the ecological complexity and dependencies of our planet. Skye leads client-based data visualization projects with contexts ranging from habitat-specific climate change to workplace cancer risk. Her work has been exhibited at Science Gallery Dublin, the European Parliament Building in Brussels, the shores of Bali, and at an Antarctic research station, among other venues. Her latest data-driven work won a National Geographic global innovation challenge first prize. Skye has authored multidisciplinary publications in ScienceSlateMigrant JournalPopular ScienceRoads & Kingdoms, Public Radio International, and essays in two forthcoming books. Skye is an Assistant Professor in the Collaborative Design & Design Systems graduate program at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and consults for the United Nations Environment Program.

This webinar will take place for free on Thursday June 10th, at 6:30pm PST. Register at the bottom of the page for the Zoom link.

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

First Tuesday Talk – The Return of Sea Otters: Considering the Cultural Dimensions of Restoration (6/1/21)

This event is hosted by the Coos History Museum on June 1st, 2021 at 6:30pm PST on Zoom. Click here to register for this free event.

“It is hard to appreciate the historical, cultural, and ecological significance of a species that disappeared from Oregon’s coastal waters over a century ago. What has the loss of sea otters meant to Oregon’s indigenous peoples? What does their absence mean to the health of nearshore ecosystems? What might be gained from the return of sea otters to Oregon? Peter Hatch from the Elakha Alliance and the Confederated Tribes of Siletz will discuss the history and possible future of sea otters in Oregon.”

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: History of Abalone w/ Ann Vileisis (5/25/21)

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Abalone, the remarkable history and uncertain future of California’s iconic shellfish

Prized for their iridescent shells and delectable meat, abalone have a long and rich cultural history on the West Coast and also an ecological history with sea otters; but with increasing stresses to marine ecosystems today, these unique mollusks now face enormous challenges. Join award-winning author Ann Vileisis for a deep dive into the environmental history of abalone, based on her new book Abalone: the remarkable history and uncertain future of California’s iconic shellfish, including updates on exciting current endangered species recovery efforts. This webinar will take place for free on Tuesday May 25th, at 6:30pm PST. Register at the bottom of the page for the Zoom link.

Ann’s latest book Abalone explores the intimate connections between food and nature on California’s coast. “Through my research on wetlands and food history, I already knew that shellfish had played a significant role in culture, cuisine, and ecology in the past,” she said. “When I found a stunning abalone shell on a Big Sur beach, it led me to discover a rich and remarkable history that spans more than 13,000 years. I unearthed colorful, joyful, and painful stories that speak directly to hard questions we face in this age of extinctions — how we can let animals we cherish become so imperiled? And how can we bring them back?”

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Sea Otters & The Lewis and Clark Expedition

Elakha Board Member, Cameron La Follete, and Dr. Doug Deur, a cultural historian who is on our Advisory Committee, co-authored an article for We Proceeded On (WPO), the journal of the Lewis and Clark Heritage Trail Foundation, about Oregon sea otters and the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

The intent in doing this article was to capture the interest of an important regional historical group for sea otter restoration in Oregon, and focus WPO’s readership on our region rather than (as is frequently the case) the Great Plains and the Midwest generally. Interestingly, the L&C Journals have more than thirty references to Expedition members trading with Clatsop and Chinook peoples for sea otter pelts, so the sea otter saga is hardly a minor part of the 1805-6 winter they spent at Fort Clatsop. 

To read & download a pdf scan of this fascinating historic article, click here.

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Coast Range Radio Podcast with Bob Bailey

Our Elakha Board President, Bob Bailey, was recently interviewed by Andrew Collins-Anderson on Coast Range Radio. Bob and Andrew discussed sea otter ecology, why sea otters are absent from the Oregon Coast, the process for reintroduction and how individuals can get involved. Take a listen!

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: Underwater Photography in the Kelp Forest w/ Brent Durand (5/13/21)

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Dive into the Underwater World with Brent Durand

Brent Durand is an avid scuba diver, surfer, writer, photographer and marketer living in Northern California. He has been scuba diving for nearly 25 years and shooting underwater photos for 10 years. The Elakha Alliance is thrilled to invite Brent to present on underwater photography best practices and to share his firsthand experiences diving within various kelp forest ecosystems.
 
Brent’s work is published in print worldwide, in advertising, and across the web. And while he has hosted photo workshops in many exotic locations around the globe, the vast majority of his diving is in the kelp forests at home. Brent has spent years documenting the kelp forest ecosystem, its inhabitants, and dive adventures from the shore, kayaks and even stand up paddle boards. Learn more and view his photos at BrentDurand.com

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Celebrate Sea Otter Moms this Mother’s Day

Sea otter moms are heroes, raising their pups on their own without the help of males or other females. 

Immediately after giving birth, a sea otter spends hours fluffing and licking her pup to ensure the pup’s fur coat retains air, since sea otters do not have any layer of blubber or fat.  And then in the months that follow, the mother must voraciously feed, so that she can nurse her pup for anywhere from four to twelve months, all while teaching the pup to survive and eventually thrive.

Someone once described starting an organization, as we have with Elakha, as like giving birth and raising a child.  We’re pretty excited at what our “pup” is doing so far!  

  • We’ve launched a scientific Feasibility Study and accompanying Economic Assessment to inform decision-making about the potential for sea otter restoration in Oregon. 
  • We’ve launched an online public education campaign, including webinars, podcasts, social media, and a new website. 
  • We’re building partnerships with other organizations small and large in order to build regional consensus that sea otter restoration is a goal worth pursuing.

But there is so much more that needs to be done, and that’s where you come in.  We need you to help “feed” Elakha with the resource most needed at the moment: your donations. Your donations of $25, $50, $100, or whatever you can afford are essential if we’re to increase our impact in the months ahead.

For starters, we’re gearing up for a big public engagement strategy this summer around the public release of the draft Feasibility Study and Economic Assessment.  

We’re also planning for a new round of outreach aimed at specific interested audiences, such as Tribes, ocean users, and those who catch shellfish or finfish as their livelihood.

All while setting the stage for 2022, when we’ll have to take the next steps on scientific assessment, and be prepared to launch a full-scale in-person public outreach program that dovetails with our online public education. 

We’ve set a target of raising $30,000 from individuals by the mid-point of the year in order to be able to move forward with our complete plan.  As I write this, we have raised $19,485 of that

In honor of sea otter mothers, your own mother, or whoever in your life nurtured you when it was most needed, please consider donating. 

Thank you so much & have a wonderful Mother’s Day.

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Aquarium Grant Opens Doors for Marine Rehabilitation Center

Congratulations are in order to the Oregon Coast Aquarium who was the recipient of a $5 million dollar grant from the Roundhouse Foundation.

The Roundhouse Foundation is located in Sisters, Oregon, and supports solutions to the challenges associated with rural culture and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. Their primary areas of focus include arts and culture, environmental stewardship, and social services and education. The Roundhouse Foundation values opportunities that work at the intersections of these areas.

Courtesy of the Oregon Coast Aquarium

The majority of this significant grant (~$4 million) will be dedicated to the creation of a brand new Marine Rehabilitation Center. We spoke to Jim Burke, the Director of Animal Husbandry for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, regarding this exciting new development. Burke also sits on the Elakha Alliance’s Science and Technological Committee.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is the only location in the state of Oregon, authorized to provide critical care to endangered marine wildlife like sea turtles, northern fur seals, and snowy plovers. Although the aquarium has helped rehabilitate sea birds (200-300/year) and stranded marine mammals in the past, this new facility would play a crucial role in assisting a significantly larger variety and overall number of animals. Burke stated that this new facility would include a warm water section for sea turtles, a bird rehab area, and the largest competent will be dedicated to the rehabilitation of marine mammals.

If/when sea otter reintroduction does occur in Oregon, the Oregon Coast Aquarium would play a crucial role, specifically as the only local state facility to admit an injured or sick sea otter for rehabilitation/release. The last time the Oregon Coast Aquarium received a wild beached sea otter was 12 years ago, and unfortunately due to health complications, it did not survive. Although the estimated completion of the new rehabilitation center won’t be for another 2 years, Burke and his team at the aquarium are looking forward to helping the Elakha Alliance’s reintroduction efforts in a variety of other ways. This includes research, relocation scouting, permitting, and lending boats/divers for various tasks.

Overall, we at the Elakha Alliance look forward to further collaboration with the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Stay tuned for further developments!

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: The Return of Oregon’s Sea Otters – Considering the Cultural Dimensions of Restoration (4/20/21)

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Culture & Sea Otters in Oregon

It is hard to appreciate the cultural importance of a species that disappeared from Oregon’s coastal waters over a century ago. What has the loss of sea otters meant to Oregon’s indigenous peoples? Join Peter Hatch, Elakha Board Member, and member of the Confederate Tribe of Siletz Indians, as he discusses the cultural dimensions of Oregon’s lost sea otters, and the hope for their return. The webinar will be held on April 20th at 6:30pm PST. Register below to join.

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: A Case for Sea Otter Restoration in Oregon (4/8/21 )

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Restoration Of Sea Otters In Oregon

Emerging science reveals that Oregon’s kelp ecosystem is undergoing dramatic shifts such as large increases in purple sea urchin barrens following the collapse of sunflower sea stars. The restoration of sea otters may help stabilize this vulnerable system, yet some Oregonian’s are concerned about possible negative effects to commercial shellfisheries. The prospect of restoring sea otters to the Oregon coast raises important ecological, cultural, and economic considerations and trade-offs. Join John Goodell, Elakha’s Director of Science and Policy, as he discusses what the Elakha Alliance is doing to address these questions and our plan going forward. The webinar will be held on April 8th at 6:30pm PST. Register below to join.

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Preserving Kelp Oases: Elakha Partnering on a North Coast Project

Even with a successful translocation of sea otters in Oregon, sea otter population growth and dispersal takes time. If an initial reintroduction occurs on the south coast where most of the best habitat occurs, it may take many decades for a viable sub-population of sea otters to become established further north. There is a chance that trends in kelp declines and spreading urchin barrens will not continue, but what if they do?

In 2020, the Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) launched a pilot project using scientific divers to experimentally remove purple sea urchins to protect specific “kelp oases”. To incentivize long-term removals, ORKA is working with partners to develop a new market for purple sea urchin “uni”. The Elakha Alliance is partnering with ORKA and with David and Talya Semrad from the Oregon Freediving Company to help coordinate a possible second location here on the north coast!  We are submitting a permit application for sea urchin harvest to ODFW soon, and hoping to be in the water this season! We think this effort will not only provide valuable insights into urchin management, but help engage the more divers and freedivers in kelp conservation. More to come soon.

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Sea Otters and Purple Sea Urchins in California: A Nuanced Story

2014 was the start of an ecological upheaval on the California and Oregon coasts. It started with the collapse of the sunflower sea star due to sea star wasting disease and by the summer, a large “blob” of warm water stretched from Alaska to Baja.  In Monterey Bay, researchers documented a large decline in kelp and corresponding spread of purple sea urchin barrens – even in areas with sea otters. To the surprise of many marine biologists, it appeared at first glancethat sea otters were not controlling purple sea urchins  a result that diverged from the previous 40 years of sea otter science.

Photo: Kate Vylet, Monterey Bay

It makes sense that sea otter don’t eat empty sea urchins (urchins found in” urchins barrens” often contain no uni since they have eaten most of the kelp and run out of food). A recent paper by Josh Smith shows that sea otters responded to the dramatic increase in urchins by consuming over 3 times as many urchins than before 2015. Otters indirectly maintained remnants of kelp forests amid widespread sea urchin outbreaks by preferentially targeting energetically profitable (gonad rich) sea urchins in or near kelp forests. These forest patches maintained by sea otters are the spore sources to ultimately replenish the barren grounds. Learn more…