Alaska Science Center
Pacific Nearshore Project
In 2009, three USGS Science Centers as well as the Minerals Management Service (MMS), National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, (EVOS), the North Pacific Research Board (NPRB) and the Monterey Bay Aquarium collaborated to develop and implement a new study to evaluate north Pacific nearshore ecosystems. The objective of the study is to improve our understanding of the factors currently affecting the health and productivity of six separate sea otter populations from California to the Katmai coast of Alaska. The study design incorporates ecosystem productivity, watershed inputs, and diet and nutrition as primary factors potentially influencing nearshore ecosystems and regulating sea otter population abundance and growth rates. Ecosystem productivity will be estimated through 1) growth rates of nearshore fishes and 2) satellite imagery (e.g., chlorophyll and temperature) and remotely sensed data (e.g., oceanographic stations). Watershed modifications and inputs into the nearshore will be estimated through satellite imagery (e.g., Landsat & MODIS) and hydrographic stations. Sea otter diet and nutrition will be estimated through direct observation of foraging otters. Concurrently, we will evaluate the health of the nearshore ecosystem as reflected in the expression of genes (as novel biomarkers) specific to: 1) organic pollutants, 2) metals, 3) parasites, 4) bacterial infection, 5) viral infection, and 6) thermal stress, in each sea otter population. The combined data sets on: 1) nearshore productivity, 2) watershed inputs, 3) sea otter diet and nutrition, and 4) sea otter gene expression will support a multivariate analysis of empirical factors likely responsible for directing the present status and trend of geographically distinct sea otter populations, and by inference, nearshore ecosystems more generally.
Pacific Nearshore Project uses sea otters as barometer -[PDF file 272 kb]