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TASSC SEA OTTER PROJECTS > Local and Traditional Knowledge of Sea Otters Project

Program Description: The objective of this project is to document local and traditional knowledge about sea otters and their environment through interviews with locals identified by the tribe whom are knowledgeable about sea otters. Interviews are intended to document local observations and statements about current and historical knowledge on various aspects of biology, traditional use and cultural relevance of sea otters. The information collected through the interviews will be compiled in an attempt to increase the knowledge and understanding of sea otter populations of the Kodiak Archipelago, the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. These areas are of particular importance to this project because it represents areas within the range of the Southwest Alaska distinct population segment of the northern sea otter listed as threatened by the USFWS in 2005. This project postulates that community members who reside in the areas year-round would have some insight on what has been happening to the sea otters in their local waters.

History: This project has its roots in a joint 1997 project between TASSC, the USFWS and the Sitka Marine Mammal Commission. Together, we worked to document sea otter recolonization in Southeast Alaska following their reintroduction in the sixties. In 2003, this project was developed to document knowledge on sea otters in 3 coastal Alaskan communities, through interviews and/or surveys of residents.

Near King Cove, Alaska, one community to participate in the TEK Project. Photo © TASSC.



Unalaska, Alaska, one community to participate in the TEK Project. Photo © TASSC.



Mapping exercise during an interview in Unalaska. Photo © TASSC.
  • During summer of 2004, TASSC staff traveled to Ouzinkie, Unalaska and King Cove and worked with a local coordinator from each community to interview a total of 67 locals.
  • Topics and questions from these interviews included: Sea otter prey: What is the sea otter eating? Are sea otters running out of food?; Sea otter predators: What is eating the sea otter?; Sea otter distribution: Where are they and/or where did they use to be?; Sea otter abundance: Do you notice more now or in the past?; Traditional use and cultural relevance of sea otter: How are/were the hides/bones/parts used? What is the sea otter’s place in culture? and other topics and questions.
  • A total of 10 of these interviews were recorded for audio production and will be compiled onto an audio CD by Alaska’s Spirit Speaks: Sound and Science.

Current/Future plans: One time only funding. Transcriptions of the interviews are currently underway. Transcripts from Ouzinkie are complete and have received Tribal approval. Following the completion of the Unalaska and King Cove interview transcripts, the information from the three Tribes will be compiled and analyzed, and a meeting will be held in each community to return the information, present the results and verify data interpretation.



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