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TASSC SEA OTTER PROJECTS > Sea Otter Biosampling Program

Program Description: Local people from around Alaska are trained to conduct necropsies on sea otter carcasses that were hunted for subsistence or found dead on the beach. The Biosamplers collect samples and data in a standardized way. Samples and information collected include organs, teeth, stomach, parasite assessment, skin, muscle, age information, and general body condition.

History:The Sea Otter Biosampling Program (SOBP) at the Commission began with a grant from Administration for Native Americans to promote Alaska Native involvement in sea otter research. The program now serves as a foundation program for Section 119 co-management between TASSC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management.

Sea otter necropsy. Photo © TASSC.


Sea otter biosampling training in Sitka, AK. Photo © TASSC.


Above and below: Overall SOBP results. Please click each image for larger view.

  • 65 + local people are trained as Sea Otter Biosamplers with tools to conduct full sea otter necropsies. Sea Otter Biosamplers have collected data and sample sets from over 435 sea otters, providing an excellent sample and data set for the northern sea otter.
  • The program standardized and unified sea otter necropsy procedures and data collection procedures throughout the range of the northern sea otter.
  • The biological sample collection is unique and represents information from presumably healthy populations.
  • The Sea Otter Tissue Distribution Guidelines or sample request guidelines, serve as a mechanism to the scientific community for access to these valuable biological samples for potential research. For information on the availability of these samples, please contact TASSC or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management.
  • For archival purposes, sub-samples of liver, kidney and muscle from each necropsy are stored at the University of Alaska Marine Mammal Museum.

Current/Future plans: In 2005, there were two sea otter tissue requests that were granted. One request was made by the U.S. Geographic Service for 50 sea otter stomachs and the other for reproductive tracts from the Southeast Region, Kodiak Region, and Prince William Sound area. The USFWS has requested all subsistence hunted histology samples and their datasheets.

This year the SOBP necropsy form was modified to follow the Field Guide to General Necropsy and Tissue Collection for Sea Otters. The largest modification to the necropsy form was that the questions were re-written to be more understandable to the biosamplers. Previously, these questions were not as detailed and could be confusing. Biosamplers do not conudct necropsies on a regular basis and wihtout regular practice it is hard to remember the proper protocol. With the new necropsy form, the biosampler can follow the precise steps with the Field Guide to General Necropsy and Tissue Collection for Sea Otters.

Presently, TASSC is conducting an in-depth program inventory. Once that is complete, we will determine long-range program plans and priorities for the next five years. Things we will be looking at include identifying areas where sufficient samples exist for a good baseline, identifying areas where sampling will be a priority due to conservation or management questions, or if the area is historically underrepresented in the program, as well as looking at overall sampling goals.



© 2005 The Alaska Sea Otter & Steller Sea Lion Commission 
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