Biologists to Begin Sea Otter Study in Southeast

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

Biologists will begin capturing sea otters in Southeast Alaska this week in an attempt to learn more about the population. The scientists will capture and release 30 otters at two different sites, near Ketchikan and Juneau.  Jim Bodkin is a researcher with the United States Geological Survey, based in Washington State. He says the team will use lots of different techniques to learn as much as possible about the otters.

The project is part of a effort that began in 2008 to understand why many sea otter populations are struggling from the Gulf of Alaska to southern California.

In Southeast Alaska, the otter population expanded rapidly for several decades at the end of the last century. But in the last 10 years, those population growth rates have been cut at least in half.

Bodkin says one test they’ll do on the otters is an advanced technique, taken from human medicine. The researchers will measure a panel of genes in the animals to see what types of things they’ve been exposed to recently.

Bodkin says otters tested in previous years from California showed a record of large wildfires that had happened the year before.

In August, biologists will sample 30 more otters in Washington. They’ve already studied populations near Katmai, in British Colombia and in California. The next step will be comparing what they find from all of the populations.

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