Sea Otters and Seagrass in Alaska
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Wildlife & Ecosystems

Sea Otters and Seagrass in Alaska

Uncover the role sea otters play in maintaining the health of critical seagrass habitat in Southeast Alaska.


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The facts

Why the research is important

Why the research is important

The extinction and recovery of sea otters in Southeast Alaska provides a unique context in which to study the environmental impact of these top predators.

By better understanding the impact of sea otters on seagrass meadows, scientists can help to conserve these animals and their habitat.

As sea otter populations have grown over the past few decades in Southeast Alaska, they have increasingly come into conflict with fishermen over limited food resources. Sea otters are voracious predators that consume up to 30 percent of their body mass per day. They prefer to feed on shellfish such as Dungeness crab, sea urchins, and abalone, which are important resources for commercial fishermen.

Study South East Alaskan Sea Otters

Top predators such as sea otters may play a role in maintaining the health of seagrasses.

Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, only coastal Alaskan Natives may harvest sea otters. But over the past four years, hunting pressure on sea otters has intensified. Between 2013 and 2014, more than 2,500 sea otters were legally harvested (a number close to the entire population of sea otters off the coast of California), but it is unclear what effect this will have on the population at large.

Little is known about the ecology of sea otters in Southeast Alaska in seagrass habitat. By studying the impact of sea otters on critically important seagrass ecosystems, scientists aim to demonstrate the role these animals play within their environment. If sea otters have a positive impact on seagrass in this region, then conserving both sea otters and seagrass becomes a matter of global importance.

About the research area

Prince of Wales Island, Alaska, United States, North America & Arctic

Daily life in the field

Itinerary

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ACTIVITY LEVEL

VERY ACTIVE

The Scientists

MEET THE LEAD SCIENTIST

Ginny
Eckert
Professor, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks

ABOUT Ginny Eckert

Dr. Ginny Eckert began studying sea otters to identify the overlap between human fisheries and sea otter diets in 2009. Her research continues to look at the role of sea otters in the marine environment. She has been working for 16 years in Southeast Alaska and is a leader in the field of marine community ecology.

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