Your Earth is Blue: Sea Otters on the Olympic Coast

April 2-15

Sea otters aren't just adorable animals with more fur per square inch than any other mammal. They're also an important keystone species, meaning their presence is central to the health of their environment. Researchers have recently been investigating how sea otter reintroduction has affected the ecosystem in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary -- check out our video to learn more!

Sea otters are a keystone species, or a keystone predator that pretty well documented how their foraging, their feeding behaviors changes the community structure of the invertebrates that they’re eating.

In the outer coast of Washington, the sea otter populations were hunted to extinction, or local extirpation, they call it. Around 1970, a few dozen animals from Alaska were reintroduced here on the outer coast. That population has grown in the last 45 years from a few dozen to somewhere upwards above 1200 individuals now.

We’re out here with the National Marine Fishery Service. We’ve got two dive teams in the water here, and they are off doing surveys of the macro invertebrates, macro algae, to monitor ¬¬survey transects that were last visited in 1999.

One of the goals of the research program really is to just monitor the long-term health of the ocean here.

We consider the sea otters to be both a charismatic species but also an indicator species of ecosystem health.

These are transects that were first established when the sea otter population was fairly small in the outer coast, and now the population has about tripled in size since the last surveys were conducted. So we’re really interested in seeing what changes in the community have developed from that.