First Update; pages 916-920



Protocol of the Fifth U.S.-Russia Workshop on Sea Otter Biology, Paratunka, 1995


Done at Paratunka 12 September 1995
Primary source citation: Copy of text provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Interior



The Fifth U.S.-Russia Workshop on Sea Otter Biology was held at Paratunka, Kamchatka, September 7-12, 1995. Representing the U.S. side were: J. Bodkin, A. Doroff, C. Gorbics, D. Jessup, M. Staedler, G. VanBlaricom, P. Ward.

Representing the Russian side were: A.G. Bazhin, A.M. Burdin, V.N. Burkanov, V.I. Gaydukov, E.A. Ivanyushina, S.I. Kornev, M.K. Maminov, A.P. Nikonorov, D.A. Ryazanov, I.N. Shevchenko, O.V. Trapezov, V.V. Vertyankin, V.A. Vladimirov, S.N. Zagrebelniy, N.P. Zimenko, M.Yu. Zasypkin.

The meeting was opened by Vladimir Burkanov.

Valeriy Vladimirov thanked the meeting organizers for their efforts and extended greetings to the group on behalf of Amirkhan M. Amirkhanov, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, who expresses the Ministry's high evaluation of the collaboration between Russian and U.S. sea otter specialists.

James Bodkin expressed the appreciation of the U.S. side to the organizers of the Kamchatka meeting for hosting the U.S. delegation.

The group stood to commemorate the passing of Vladimir Oshurkov, a valued friend and scientist, and Vladimir Burkanov and Glenn VanBlaricom offered words on behalf of the group.

David Jessup described the work of the Veterinary Services Unit of the State of California's Office of Oil Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR). He spoke of the financing mechanism of the OSPR and its mobile response capabilities, current and planned rehabilitation centers and its research program. Portions of the doctoral thesis work of Jonna Mazet were presented, including a description of field techniques for the detection of petroleum products on sea otter fur. Equipment used for this purpose and the potential benefits were described in detail.

Oleg Trapezov examined the issue of holding captive sea otters in the conditions of western Siberia. He demonstrated that it is possible to create a breeding population in captivity. The most realistic method of creating such a population is by selecting from the wild individuals that lack fear of humans.

Michelle Staedler described the work she has conducted with Jack Ames on studying drift patterns of radio telemetried sea otter carcasses and "dummy otters" made out of tires. Three trials were done to date with all carcasses and dummies being released in the same area and then tracked by radio. The information gained from the work will assist in determining the use of radio-transmittered tires that would be deployed at an oil spill site to determine drift patterns of otter carcasses in areas affected by the spill.

David Jessup described the work of Jonna Mazet on the links between petroleum exposure and reproductive impairment in sea otters. American mink were used as a surrogate species in external and internal exposure trials to Alaska North Slope crude oil and Bunker fuel oil. Additional health problems were noted, and the experience of oil spills in California were cited.

Michelle Staedler spoke of studying a die-off of sea otters in Monterey Bay, California, and methods of investigating possible mortality factors. The die-off was an unusual occurance for such a small area in such a short amount of time. Several organizations were involved in collecting, studying and investigating the situation. In spite of many tests for both man made and natural toxins as well as bacteria, parasites, viruses etc., no definitive causes of death common to all animals have been identified to date. Tissues are being saved for future testing.

Vladimir Burkanov reported on the overall issues of sea otter protection in the Kamchatka region and on all the main concentration points of these animals. He presented information on measures adopted by Kamchatrybvod on sea otter protection measures in Kamchatka and the Commandor Islands. He noted that the problem of poaching is not as large as it was two years ago.

James Bodkin spoke of the history and status of founding and translocated sea otter populations. Methods of estimating genetic diversity using MtDNA were described. Haplotype diversity in founding populations of Amchitka and Prince William Sound, Alaska were compared to translocated populations in Washington, British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.

Angela Doroff addressed the group with a presentation on harvest levels and age-sex composition of subsistence-hunted sea otters in Alaska. She described the marking, tagging and reporting program and data collected on gender and age. Data were presented on harvest percentages within management regions and the estimated population abundance of sea otters within management regions.

Glenn VanBlaricom addressed the group on potential fishery conflicts involving sea otters in the waters of Washington State. He began with an historical overview of a reduction in various sea otter prey species following the growth of the sea otter population and expansion of their range. The range of sea otters in Washington State was noted along with the ranges of sea otter prey species and their economic and recreational importance to Washington State Native and non-native residents. VanBlaricom reviewed possible management options available for use as sea otters expand to additional habitats, some where conflicts with human interests may occur.

Michelle Staedler described the interest of the Monterey Bay Aquarium in genome resource banking. A cryopreservation storage program of sperm, embryos, tissues. blood and DNA would assist in the preservation of sea otter genetic diversity. The aquarium would welcome the involvement of other sea otter scientists in this banking process and to contribute blood, sperm, eggs, and tissues of all three sea otter subspecies (Russian, Alaskan and Californian).

Glenn VanBlaricom spoke of the influence of sea otter predation and recreational harvest on red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) populations off central and northern California. Sea otters exert the greater effect on abalone demography, influencing abalone density, size structure, and pattern of microhabitat use. Recreational fishers also influence size structure and microhabitat use. Other factors, such as substratum configuration, also influence abalone demography.

Glenn VanBlaricom addressed the configuration and variation of kelp forests occupied by sea otters off Big Sur, California. All areas studied had established sea otter populations and low densities of large grazing invertebrates such as sea urchins. Variation in benthic communities was substantial on all scales, and generally did not correlate with environmental factors. Substratum configuration was the only factor clearly associated with spatial pattern in some locations. Models to explain observed variation are complicated and require integration of historical as well as environmental factors.

Angela Doroff presented data on the post-weaning survival of juvenile sea otters in Prince William Sound Alaska to assess population recovery following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Juvenile females survived significantly better than males in the control (unoiled); there was evidence of intraspecific aggression which caused mortality for males. Survival rates were lower in the treatment (oiled) area than the control area. It was not possible to determine whether observed differences in survival were due to chronic effects of oil or potential differences in resource availabilty between the treatment and control areas.

James Bodkin spoke of using cementum layers in the first premolar tooth for estimating ages of sea otters. Estimates of accuracy and precision were provided by comparing estimated to known ages.

Sergei Zagrebelniy presented information on the status of sea otter protection on the Commandor Islands. In 1994, the Commandor Islands Fish Inspection Service located eleven sea otters with bullet wounds, nineteen sea otters with fatal skull wounds, and twenty-one sea otter carcasses that had their hides removed. The registering of hides of dead sea otters declined by a factor of four. According to unofficial data, on Bering Island, poachers harvest about 60 sea otters annually.

Nadezhda Zimenko reported data on the foraging activity of sea otters in a defined aquatic territory near Glinka Harbor (Medniy Island). Through visual observations and mapping, zones of intensive and limited foraging use were delineated. Information on the species and measurements of prey was studied, along with relations of sea otter underwater and surface locations during foraging, in regards to the number and distribution of prey.

Elena Ivanyushina examined the species composition and size structure of the main sea otter prey harvested using underwater diving equipment in areas used to varying extent by sea otters for foraging. It was demonstrated that despite many years of utilizing the study plot for foraging, the plot was quite rich with foraging resources that support the sea otter group inhabiting the site.

Elena Ivanyushina compared bottom communities, with emphasis on sea otter prey, from various sites in the studied aquatic territory at Glinka Harbor (Medniy Island); compared them with data gathered the same year at nearby Cape Drovenskiy; compared them with the average indices for Medniy Island using data from 1992; and compared them with data from Glinka Harbor acquired in 1972. It was demonstrated, using large scale hydrobiological research, that there was a likelihood of an underestimation of the abundance of individual benthic groups.

Dmitriy Ryazanov presented the results of an experiment in age evaluation using PM1 stained sections, made independently by three researchers. The methodology was applied to define the age distribution of sufficiently large samples, but was not appropriate for determining an exact age on an individual basis. To improve the methodology, standardization of reading layers using samples from individuals of known age is essential.

Aleksandr Burdin reported on the results of two years of research on sea otter births at Bering Island. Monthly abundance censuses were conducted at the model plot in the northern part of Bering Island and the number of pups were counted. It was established that most pups are born in April-May. Therefore, annual sea otter abundance censuses conducted in June-July allow us to correctly evaluate the size of the annual additions to the population.

Dmitriy Ryazanov presented information from now accessible archaeological materials on the age composition of sea otters. The available information is incomplete, but allows us to make a number of assumptions on past sea otter distribution and abundance in Kamchatka. Verification and expansion of their beliefs is possible only with analogous archaeological efforts.

Mikhail Zasypkin reported on the results of studying sea otter genetic markers using electrophoresis in polyacrylic amino gel (PAAG). Forty-nine enzymes and eight non-enzyme proteins were researched. A high level of allozyme variation was detected (average heterogeneity = 0.057) along with interspecies genetic heterogeneity. A hypothesis was suggested capable of explaining how in conditions of a long-term reduction in abundance, sea otters have not lost genetic variability.

Sergei Kornev presented data for the period 1984-93 on sea otter observations collected at a Kamchatrybvod station at Cape Lopatka. He presented data on seasonal distribution, abundance and natural deaths of sea otters for a 10 year period. Additionally, the dependence of distribution, abundance and mortality on seasons and a number of other abiotic factors were examined. Variations in the maximal abundance were noted from 1,800 in 1984 to 550 in 1989 and 2,500 in 1993. From 1984 to 1993 1,710 sea otter carcasses were found at Cape Lopatka. Kornev also presented data on bear predation at sea otter haul out sites dependent on bear activity during the year, relative to food availability (salmon). The annual dynamics of visitations to haul out sites by bears and the numbers of sea otters taken were presented. The number of visits to haul out sites were compared for the winter and summer periods. The role of the bear in habitat areas shared with sea otters leads not only to the bear in its role of beach scavenger, but also as a substantial regulator of sea otter abundance in years that yield poor food availability for brown bears.

Carol Gorbics described the status of the Alaska sea otter stock considering geographic range, minimum population estimate, maximum productivity rate, population trend, and total human caused mortality. This information was used to develop a potential biological removal level describing the total number of animals that could he removed from the overall Alaska sea otter population while still allowing the population to remain within an optimum sustainable population range. This was compared with the total number of otters killed due to human activities to determine that the overall status of the population was stable on a state-wide basis. However, Native harvest may cause some localized declines to subpopulations due to increasing localized harvest.

Aleksandr Nikonorov reported on the history of sea otter groups in Kronotskiy Nature Reserve. Sea otters established themselves at Kronotskiy Nature Reserve in about 1970. The first groups were noticed in 1971. Up to the present day 102 sea otters carcasses have been recovered. A slow reduction in group abundance can be noted along with gradual changes in sea otter distribution. In the collections of Kronotskiy Nature Reserve are 45 sea otter skulls and two complete skeletons. Along the Kronotskiy coast, sea otters have many real and potential enemies (brown bear, wolverine, Steller's sea eagle).

Ilya Shevchenko presented data on abundance dynamics of sea otters from the Commandor Islands population for the period 1988-1993. Data were presented on sea otter abundance on Medniy Island (1988-1995). The minimal abundance was registered in 1993. In 1995 the abundance of sea otters remained at its previous low level. Sea otter linear density at control plots generally did not exceed 0.7-4.2 females per kilometer.

Mikhail Maminov presented many years of data on the age of and seasonal weight variability in testicles and ovaries and the amount of spermatozoids among reproductively active sea otter males and females and for female otters in estrous. Data were gathered on the seasonal dynamics of pup abundance. This allowed for an expansion and refinement of the data on the age of sexual maturity, reproductive activity and sea otter pups on the Kurile Islands.

Vladimir Vertyankin reported on the results of a sea otter census at Kronotskiy Nature Reserve in 1995 and expanded on census data from previous years. The abundance of the Kronotskiy group in 1995 had declined in comparison with previous years and, based on a marine census, comprised 300 individuals. In April only 5 sea otters were noted which can be explained by difficult ice conditions. An opinion was voiced that sea otters migrate to southern Kamchatka in winter.

Vladimir Vertyankin presented a report on the abundance of sea otters of the Commandor Islands. The maximum abundance of sea otters was noted in 1990 at 6,200 individuals. The peak birth rate was noted in 1993 at 1,138 pups. The greatest sea otter density was noticed in the northern part of Bering Island. On Medniy Island significant changes in sea otter abundance have not occurred in recent years.

Vladimir Burkanov demonstrated that the distribution range of the main sea otter groupings in Kamchatka did not expand in the period 1983-1995. There is a potential for an expansion of the sea otter range in Kamchatka. The contemporary range of this species has not reached its historic borders.

Valeriy Gayukov reported on the status of sea otter law enforcement measures in the northern Kurile Islands of Paramushir and Shumshu. Despite the efforts of the fish inspection service, large scale sea otter poaching continues.

James Bodkin described the nearshore vertebrate predator project being implemented in Prince William Sound, Alaska to evaluate the process of the recovery of sea otter populations affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Proposed Collaborative Activities:

Joint proposals:

1. Continue to exchange sea otter tissues for comparative studies of genetics, contaminants, and other aspects of natural history with maximum provision of life history data for the subject animals (gender, age, etc.).

Russian side proposes:

1. To consider inviting one U.S. specialist in 1996 to complete efforts in researching the history of the sea otter harvest in Russian and Alaskan waters in the 18th and 20th centuries.

2. To consider inviting 2-3 U.S. specialists in 1996 for joint field research on Bering Island involving marking and the collection of biological materials from living and deceased sea otters.

3. To consider inviting 2-3 U.S. specialists in 1997 to participate in an expedition to study benthic communities and the sea otter population on the Kronotskiy Peninsula.

4. To consider inviting 2-3 U.S. specialists to participate in joint research of benthic communities of the Commandor Islands in 1996 and in 1997. 5. To consider inviting 2-3 U.S. specialists in 1997 to participate in an expedition studying the influence of sea otters on benthic communities of the Commandor Islands.

6. To consider inviting 1-2 U.S. specialists to participate in a sea otter vessel survey in Kamchatka and the Northern Kuriles in 1996 if a vessel is available.

7. That the U.S. side examine the possibility of conducting oil product origin and identification analysis when Russian sea otter habitat is contaminated by oil products.

8. To conduct genetic research of sea otter tissue using electrophoresis. The Russian side expresses its interest in receiving appropriate samples from sea otters of the U.S. population.

U.S. side proposes:

1. To consider inviting two or three Russian specialists to participate in studies of sea otters and benthic ecosystems in Southeast Alaska in 1996 or 1997. 2. To continue cooperative research on sea otter diving behavior using time depth recorders and radio transmitters at the Commander Islands in 1996 or 1997. 3. To consider hosting one or two Russian specialists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for approximately one month in 1996 for familiarization with tagging and capture techniques and research efforts.

4. To invite one Russian specialist to participate in the continuation of studies of historical records of sea otter hunting in Russian and U.S. waters, and to participate in comparative studies of sea otter population dynamics and natural history.

5. To hold the next U.S.-Russia sea otter workshop in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. or nearby location in 1997 and to invite the participation of sea otter specialists from Canada, Japan and Mexico.

Signed 12 September, 1995 in English and Russian texts, both versions being identical and equally authentic.

For the Russian Side [Signature] Valeriy Vladimirov [Signature] Vladimir N. Burkanov

For the U.S. side [Signature] James L. Bodkin [Signature] Glenn R. VanBlaricom