Picture of Heidi Pearson

Heidi Pearson

Phone: 907-796-6271 (office)
Email: hcpearson@alaska.edu
Home: http://uashome.alaska.edu/~HCPEARSON
Office location: 205 C Anderson



One aspect of human-wildlife conflict that we are studying is the interaction between humans and sea otters. Sea otters were historically abundant in Southeast Alaska until the fur trade resulted in their extirpation from the region in the early 20th Century. In the absence of this apex predator, lucrative commercial shellfish fisheries were established. However, in the 1960s, sea otters were reintroduced to Southeast Alaska, the population flourished, and foraging by sea otters has since led to drastic declines in commercial fisheries. Consequently, heated conflict has arisen and there is political pressure to “control” sea otters which has resulted in an unsustainable harvest of this predator.

To predict future impacts of sea otters on commercial fisheries and ultimately aid in sea otter conservation and management strategies, it is imperative to assess sea otter dietary composition and attributes of prey selection. As such, we are studying sea otter foraging behavior to determine if/how sea otters select prey according to macronutrient (e.g., lipid, protein) composition. Our understanding of nutritional ecology of marine predators is in its infancy and this novel approach will yield information on how and why sea otters are selecting prey and what the future ecosystem impacts may be. This research, along with our study of how sea otters are affecting kelp forests, will provide a holistic perspective on the impact of sea otters on Southeast Alaska coastal marine ecosystems.  

This work was initiated by Coralie Delorme (MSc, Jean-Monett University) during Summer 2015 and was continued by Bárbara Cartagena da Silva Matos (MSc student and Fulbright Scholar, University of Aveiro) during Summer 2016.