Sea otters were the topic of discussion at a college hour held Friday, which invited researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium to speak with students about the importance of the species as a whole and the conservation work they are doing to help save them.
The event was organized by professor Diane Carney so students in her marine biology class and students outside of her class could learn and ask questions to two Monterey Bay Aquarium volunteers about sea otters.
“What do Einstein and otters have in common?” said Ron Eby, one of the volunteers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “They’re both keystone species, a species that plays an important role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community, which means they affect other organisms in an ecosystem.”
Eby and his co-worker, Robert Scoles, gave a presentation on the work they do with sea otters.
The presentation began by showing a few slides filled with facts about sea otters.
Some of the provided information included in the slide stated that otters are the heaviest member of the weasel family, they are the latest marine mammal to evolve, they have the densest fur of any animal and they were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s.
Following the slideshow, Eby and Scoles explained the work they do at the Elkhorn Slough on Monterey Bay and how it has been beneficial for sea otters.
Elkhorn Slough is one of the 13 Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries that were established in 1992.
The Slough houses over 100 sea otters, and it may be the key to the recovery of the southern sea otter.
Eby and Scoles have been going out to the Slough to collect data on the otters, such as how much they forage and what they spend their free time doing.
To better chart the activity of the sea otters, the otters are tagged with radio devices so they can be monitored at all times.
The sea otters at the Elkhorn Slough spend 34% of their time foraging and the rest of their time resting, whereas the coastal sea otters spend 44% of their time foraging and the rest of their time resting.
Eby and Scoles’ research has also shown that the otters at the Elkhorn Slough are heavier and healthier due to more prey, like sheep crabs, being readily available, and by having better living conditions.
After the presentation, students from Carney’s class began to ask questions about the sea otters and what steps one would take to begin volunteering to work with otters.
“There are many paths you have to take along the journey to get to where you want to be,” said Scoles. “Most importantly, don’t give up and don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.”
The event was held in Raef Hall Friday from noon to 1 p.m.