The Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is multi-faceted. We study the wild population to learn more about links between food preferences and health, we monitor rehabilitated and released animals to determine success following surgery, medical procedures and surrogacy-raising and we collaborate with partners to understand the causes of the sluggish growth of the population here in California.
However, the Southern sea otter is only one of three sea otters sub-species in the Pacific, and there's a lot to be learned about all three. That's why we are working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and a number of other partners in a new study that will study populations of sea otters throughout their Pacific coast range.
Scientists are interested in understanding the differences between animals who are impacted by interactions between land and sea - i.e. in areas of pollution, agriculture run-off etc. and those who live in more pristine waters but might be impacted by other factors such as climate change - sea level rise or ocean acidification (a result of adding carbon dioxide to our atmosphere, which is absorbed by the oceans and results in a lowering of pH.)
Sea otters are important sentinels of nearshore ecosystem health. They eat many of the things that we like to eat. Understanding their challenges will help us build a picture of what is happening to our coastal waters and may offer us insights into hidden dangers that could ultimately impact human health.
It's nearly the close of tax season - but if you are yet to file and live in California - you can help sea otters by donating a portion of your tax refund to the California Sea Otter Fund. Look for the option on your California state return.