Seattle Aquarium staff members participate in sea otter research

Seattle Aquarium’s Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson and Biologist Caroline Hempstead

The Aquarium’s Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson and Biologist Caroline Hempstead spent September 17 and 18 observing sea otter foraging off the Washington Coast. Shawn’s description of the experience is below:

sea otter research location

We looked for sea otters in the waters off Kalaloch and Norwegian Memorial Beach or Cedar Creek just north of La Push. We saw approximately 500 sea otters resting in a huge raft—the term for what a group of sea otters is called—just east of Destruction Island. That’s the densest population of sea otters off the Washington coast; the total statewide population is approximately 1,100.

We were helping to assess sea otter diet and nutrition through direct observation of feeding otters. The otters dive to collect food, then come to the surface to eat while resting on their backs. Through high-powered spotting scopes, we can often observe what they’re eating and note the prey type, number and size. We also write down dive time and surface time.

Shawn Larson

The goal is to gather data on at least 20 dives per foraging sea otter—that typically takes close to an hour and it often takes several hours to find a foraging sea otter that’s close enough to observe feeding. In just over two years of gathering data we have observed over 1,000 dives on close to 100 sea otters.

Learn more about sea otters during the Aquarium’s second Sea Otter Awareness Weekend, September 28­–29!

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