By Ray Wack, DVM, ACZM, Senior Veterinarian, Sacramento Zoo
This past week, I was invited to participate in a field project which aims to monitor behavior and health of sea otters off the coast of California. The California coast is the southern extent of the otter’s range and the otters face many natural and man-made impacts. The monitoring project is part of a long term effort to assess the health of the otter population and determine the influence of human activities and diseases on the population.
This project is truly a huge team effort! Over 40 professionals from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), Monterey Bay Aquarium, Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN), and many other organizations have joined together to help the otters.
Otters are captured in the ocean and brought to a dock side veterinary lab. Each otter is anesthetized and then numerous blood samples, hair samples, saliva, and measurements are taken to determine the health of the otter, exposure to toxins, and population genetics. I helped collect blood samples, intubate anesthetized otters and instrument them. Each otter is outfitted with a radio transmitter which allow its movements to be followed and records their diving activity.
Within a few hours of its capture the otter is released where it was found. Another whole team is responsible for tracking each of the otters on a daily basis. The information we learn helps us make decisions which benefit both people and otters living along California’s coast. This is just one of the many conservation projects that the Sacramento Zoo supports.
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Southern sea otter in Monterey Bay. Photo Credit: USFWS