A Multidisciplinary Approach to Investigating and Managing the Disturbance of Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) by Recreational Activities.
Speaker: Deborah Benham (The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society)
In recent years there has been increasing concern regarding interactions between recreational activities and the threatened southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) in California. Kayaking is of particular concern as this activity occurs at high levels along the northern Monterey Peninsula. The current study employed multidisciplinary methods over a four year period to investigate this issue. Interviews with stakeholders determined attitudes toward otters and identified whether relationships between stakeholders contributed to disturbance. A survey of kayaking participants assessed motivation, tourist types, attitudes toward management and satisfaction with the kayaking experience. These social research methods were used as previous studies have shown that involving stakeholders can improve management. Observations were made of sea otter interactions with recreational vessels over a three year period. Disturbance to sea otters from recreational vessels was manifested as short-term changes in otter behaviour including increased vigilance or avoidance of disturbance sources. These changes had impacts on otter time-budgeting which may lead to increased energy expenditure. Kayaks caused most disturbance events, although less than 25% of kayaks provoked a response from otters. Direct and very close approaches were identified as particularly disturbing. There was some evidence of tolerance in otters exposed to high levels of disturbance. Potential causes of disturbance to sea otters were identified as: lack of awareness by some management agencies and tour operators regarding occurrence of disturbance events, insufficient information on the potential impacts of disturbance on sea otters, poor communication between agencies and inadequate public education. The data collected have been used to improve collaboration, communication and information dissemination between stakeholders and to develop wildlife watching guidelines for kayakers. It has also contributed to marine wildlife watching guidelines being developed for the wider state of California. This is the first study to use multidisciplinary research methods to identify underlying social and biological causes of wildlife disturbance and to use this information to improve educational programmes and wildlife watching guidelines. These methods may also be of benefit in identifying and addressing causes of wildlife disturbance in other locations.