Lisa Neeles, Dean Wendt
I made progress on satisfying the objectives I set out to accomplish for my thesis project. Since spring of 2016, I designed and built predatory exclusion cages, deployed cages at the North T-Pier, and trapped crabs and maintained them at the Cal Poly pier. Additionally, I led over 30 scientific dives and collected sea otter foraging data weekly. I still need to run the foraging data through the Sea Otter Foraging Analysis (SOFA) program develop by Dr. Tim Tinker. However, based on my observations, clams comprise a majority of the sea otter diet in Morro Bay, but crabs still seem to be a major prey item. The caging supplies for the predatory cage exclusion experiment were more costly than expected, so I was not able to purchase cameras for documenting sea otter presence at the study site. However, I have been recording personal observations of sea otters foraging at the study site while diving and while collecting foraging data. We will be starting sea otter distribution surveys in July 2017 to help quantify the foraging pressure at the study site. We will be counting the number of sea otters present at the study site and recording their behavior. I designed 9.5 in x 13 ft predatory exclusion cages with openings for 6 settlement plates per cage and removable doors for cleaning (Figure 1). The cage design and deployment took longer than anticipated; cages were deployed on 6 pilings at the North T Pier in May 2017. I began collecting data on crab abundances on the pier pilings at the North T-pier in Morro Bay and on the percent cover of fouling organisms on the settlement plates in June 2017. I will continue to collect crab abundance data and monitor the percent cover of Watersipora through December 2017 to satisfy my objective of quantifying the changes in Watersipora abundance in response to varying crab densities. I successfully disseminated my research to the general public and plan to present at the Western Society of Naturalists conference in November 2017. I was invited to present my research to the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club and gave a talk detailing the life history and current research surrounding the southern sea otter. I also created an interactive display, including live Watersipora and a mock pier piling photo booth (figure 2) for the Cal Poly Pier Open House. I mentored 12 undergraduate students throughout the course of this project, teaching them sea otter foraging data collection techniques, crab identification and husbandry, and data management. As data collection continues, I will collaborate with undergraduate biologists and scientific divers.
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