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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

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

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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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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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…

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Virtual Symposium Recordings are Available!

If you missed some of the talks at the recent Elakha Alliance Virtual Science Symposium, here are the links recordings for 6 of the 8 talks. Unfortunately we had technical difficulties with our second day of recordings. We are looking forward to seeing you at our next virtual event.

View recorded symposium presentations here…

 A. Dr Jim Estes Keynote Address

#1 Scott Groth on the history of sea urchin fishing and their populations in Oregon

#2 Sarah Hamilton on the conservation status of Pycnopodia (sunflower sea star)

#3 Josh Smith on patchiness in kelp and urchin barrens

#6 Brent Hughes on the ecological influence of sea otters on eelgrass communities

#7 Tim Tinker on considerations for the recolonization of sea otters in Oregon

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Events Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Webinar: Legal and Economic Dimensions of Sea Otter Reintroduction

Species re-introductions involve complex biological, legal, and social consideration for agencies, scientists, stakeholders, and communities. However, evaluating a species associated with effects on economically valuable resources, makes assessments and input all-the-more important.

Please join Elakha Board President Bob Bailey and USFWS biologist Michele Zwartjes, on August 26th at 6pm, for a webinar presentation designed to explore the legal, scientific, and social framework of sea otter reintroduction; where things stand now, and what are the next steps? Register soon!

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Science and Conservation of Sea Otters

Elakha Alliance in the News!

Northwest News reporter, and regular OPB contributor, Tom Banse, chats with the Elakha Alliance’s leadership about new research coming out of British Columbia. Economists and social scientists studied the effects of sea otter population growth on human communities, with some interesting implications for Oregon. Read the full story….

A sea otter in the waters off Vancouver Island