Jane Watson – “Sea otters”

Jane Watson – “Sea otters”
by Andrew Bryant, 25 Sep 2014. 

Dr. Watson is Professor of Biology at Vancouver Island University, and is based in Nanaimo.  For over 25 years she has been actively studying the ecology of sea otters, those iconic mammals that also have the amazing ability to create and shape the environments in which they live!

Sea otters were hunted to extinction in Canada by the mid 1800s, but were reintroduced to British Columbia from 1969 – 1972.  Reintroductions were ultimately successful, with the wild population currently numbering  around 5000, and still growing at a rate of 17-20% per year (trust me you’d be very happy if your bank account was doing as well).

Part of Jane’s long-term research has revealed how presence (or absence, or re-colonization) of top-level predators can profoundly alter local ecosystems.  By feeding on sea urchins, which in turn graze upon algae, sea otters play an important role in nearshore ecology.   Thus, presence or absence of sea otters can lead to highly productive “kelp forests” or less productive “urchin barrens”.  And strange is this may sound, these changes may have profound implications for the fish that you catch, the size of the geoducks that you dig, or the flavor of the crab-meat that you eat.

Through wit, charm, use of data, wonderful images, tactile things, and her obvious passion for her subject, Jane brought us closer to a creature we’ve all seen in photographs…but never really understood.