Twilight. Forks, Washington. Alluring faces that captivate hearts and win over strangers. But beware! Behind the bright eyes and captivating charm, sharp teeth are ready to strike at any moment on unsuspecting innocents. Yes, blood will be drawn for sure.
Then it will be analyzed to determine just how healthy sea otters are in the Pacific Northwest. The effort is part of a larger “Pacific Nearshore Project” — a multinational, multi agency project investigating sea otters as health indicators of coastal waters and marine resources spanning Alaska, Canada and south to California.
The Aquarium’s own veterinarian, Dr. Mike Murray is part of the crew charged with collecting blood and other samples from the locals. The team is currently based out of La Push, where Dr. Mike would probably prefer to meet a werewolf rather than the creature he affectionately refers to as a furry buzz saw. But with many years working with our exhibit animals, plus the hundreds of stranded sea otters he’s treated, he is well equipped to handle them at their best and worst!
It’s all in a good cause. “Sea otters are the perfect health indicators of our nearshore waters,” says James Bodkin, a USGS research biologist and the project’s chief scientist. “They’re entirely dependent on nearshore marine habitats and they are keystone species in kelp forest food webs. Some populations are abundant and stable, while others are either declining or struggling to reach healthy numbers. Can these differences be explained by ocean influences, or by human impacts to the adjacent watersheds? That’s what we’re hoping to learn.”