Sea Otter Research

The Southern Sea Otter Research Alliance represents a multi-disciplinary, collaborative team of researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA), University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), University of California at Davis (UCD), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center (MWVCRC), and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).  These six primary institutions, with help from other organizations and federal, state and municipal agencies have established a diverse and highly effective research program focused on conservation and recovery of the threatened southern sea otter and its ecosystem. The Alliance represents the cutting-edge of cross-disciplinary research, drawing upon the knowledge and expertise of researchers from many fields including behavior, ecology, epidemiology, microbiology, molecular biology, oceanography, parasitology, pathology, physiology, toxicology, and water quality to solve highly complex and otherwise intractable conservation problems. Emphasizing an ecosystem-based approach to solving the problems facing southern sea otters, the Alliance goes beyond a single species perspective to look at community-level interactions and land-sea connections that are relevant for the health of all coastal species, including humans, and to the stability of the nearshore marine ecosystem.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program has been studying and trying to save the threatened southern sea otter since 1984. They rescue, treat and release injured otters, raise and release stranded pups through their surrogate program, provide care for sea otters that can’t return to the wild, and conduct scientific research. Although MBA focuses primarily on the southern sea otter, MBA staff and volunteers collaborate with the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientists to study sea otters from Russia, to Alaska, to southern California.

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University of California, Santa Cruz

With the dynamic combination of university scientists, state-of-the-art analytical equipment, modern facilities, collaborative research opportunities, and an overriding commitment to quality in education and research, the University of California, Santa Cruz, is on the forefront of marine science research and education. Set on the edge of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the nation’s largest national marine sanctuary, the campus provides students and scientists who seek to study the ocean and its life a unique opportunity to pursue their dreams and ambitions.  The Institute of Marine Sciences, an organized research unit of the UCSC, has the responsibility to encourage, develop, and support university endeavors in marine science research and education.

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University of California, Davis

The Wildlife Health Center (WHC) is a multidisciplinary program within the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis that focuses on the health of free-ranging and captive terrestrial and aquatic wild animals The Center draws upon faculty expertise spanning a wide range of wildlife species and scientific disciplines and attracts students from around the world to participate in its research and educational programs.

The WHC administers 12–15 programs including the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, the SeaDoc Society (a marine ecosystem health program based in the Pacific Northwest), and the Marine Ecosystem Health Diagnostic and Surveillance Laboratory. Many WHC faculty have research activities advancing our understanding of marine wildlife health, and sea otters in particular have been studied as sentinels for ocean health. Over the past 20 years WHC and UC Davis faculty have partnered with alliance members to investigate sea otter population health and the transport mechanisms driving pathogen pollution from land to sea in the near shore ecosystem.

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U.S. Geological Survey

The Pacific Southwest is the country’s most ecologically rich and diverse area. It contains a dazzling array of habitats from below-sea-level deserts to alpine tundra to coastal mountains, seashores, and marine ecosystems. The scientists of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center reflect the diversity of this region with expertise in a wide range of disciplines. Their capabilities fulfill the varied needs of clients and partners, from ecological research, monitoring and technology development to basic biology and modeling.

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California Department of Fish & Wildlife

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center (MWVCRC) provides the best achievable treatment for marine mammals and birds affected by oil spills in marine waters.  Located on California’s central coast on the University of California Santa Cruz campus, this 18,000-square-foot center is the first of its kind in the United States dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and research of oiled marine wildlife, with emphasis on sea otters. The facility, built in 1997, is equipped with sea water pools and pens, wildlife washing and drying rooms, veterinary treatment and rehabilitation rooms, and laboratory space for up to 125 sea otters. It also provides the flexibility to care for other marine mammals and birds.  The center is the primary location for the DFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) oiled wildlife response unit, the centerpiece of the statewide Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

The MWVCRC was specified under the landmark Lempert-Keene-Seastrand oil spill act of 1990 which was California’s response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is a bureau within the Department of the Interior. As the principal federal partner responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act (ESA), they take the lead in recovering and conserving our Nation’s imperiled species by fostering partnerships, employing scientific excellence, and developing a workforce of conservation leaders.  Their two primary goals are to:

1) Protect endangered and threatened species, and then pursue their recovery; and
2) Conserve candidate species and species-at-risk so that listing under the ESA is not necessary.

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