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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

sierra bioMy love of marine research began at the University of Miami, from which I graduated during the winter of 2017 with BSMAS degrees in Marine Science and Biology. While there, I had multiple unique opportunities, including leading acoustic research working to determine the vocal repertoire of the nocturnal owl monkey and living in the Galapagos Islands with locals for three months. Much of my free time was spent coordinating training and stranding responses as the Stranding Coordinator for their Marine Mammal Rescue Team. These experiences drove my interest in the marine mammal field and led me to pursue many internship and learning opportunities in animal care. I had the opportunity to work alongside a diversity of species, including beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, river otters and multiple species of alcids. With each new species, I became more interested in the specialization required to survive within their different environments.

My desire to study and contribute to new knowledge of marine mammals led me to an internship with the UCSC Joseph Long Marine Laboratory’s Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Lab. There I gained more hands-on, dual experience in both animal care and cooperative research and gained an even greater interest in the research field. I knew that in order to be better equipped to find answers to my questions, and share this information with others, I needed to improve my background in research and scientific writing by returning for my graduate studies.

I was welcomed into the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories' Vertebrate Ecology Lab in the Fall of 2019 under the guidance of Dr. Gitte McDonald. My research focuses on the behavior, composition, and dynamics of sea otter rafts and their relation to varying levels of nearby human activity and potential disturbance. 

sierra research 500Research:

This project aims to expand the limited understanding of sea otter group dynamics and changes in group behavior and composition due to the effects of human disturbance. We are observing and documenting the group dynamics of sea otter rafts along the California coast, from Moss Landing to Morro Bay. This will provide new information on sea otter group dynamics, particularly from female rafts that have not been previously evaluated. Our goal is to develop a better understanding of sea otter raft formation and stability across regions of varying human presence and to determine potential behavioral differences between sea otter rafts. These behavioral differences may provide insight into the energetic costs of human activity and disturbance to different otter communities across the California coast, supplementing the individual energetic costs determined during previous Sea Otter Savvy research (Barrett 2019).


Barrett, H. E. (2019). The Energetic Cost of Anthropogenic Disturbance on the Southern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris nereis). San Jose State University, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.