USGS -- Assessing the Effects of Seismic Experiments on Marine Wildlife

As part of a long-standing Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, USGS through its Earthquake Hazards Program, and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), a publicly owned utility providing service within California, are engaged in a long-term seismic risk management program to reduce the impact of future earthquakes. A spin-off from this CRADA is a study by the USGS Western Ecological Research Center to improve understanding of the ecological impact of high energy seismic studies on sea otter population. Sea otters are a federally-listed threatened species that also serve as crucial indicators of the health of nearshore waters and coastal resources, from kelp forests to fisheries. Results from this study will help managers in shaping recovery strategies for sea otters, and for enhancing ecological services provided by nearshore healthy ecosystems. The study involves collaboration between USGS, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and veterinarians and scientists from a number of universities. The team of biologists, veterinarians, technicians, interns and volunteers have captured, tagged and collected tissue samples for health analyses from over 50 sea otters in the region, and then monitored these animals in the wild on a daily basis using radio telemetry and direct observation. Gene transcription analysis is used to assess exposure to various stressors, and advanced bio-logging devices provide detailed information on dive behavior and metabolic rates. Data from thousands of observations of tagged animals are used to provide baseline data on the demography, behavior, diet, habitat use and movements of sea otters in the vicinity of Diablo Canyon Power Plant, for use in “before/during/after” comparison studies that would be conducted in the event of any future seismic testing/research activity.