UCSC Sea Otter Research Internship

Nature of Research/Program Description: 

The southern sea otter population (Enhydra lutris nereis) is on the rebound from near extirpation from the Pacific fur trade of the 18th and 19th centuries. From a raft of less than 50 individuals found off the coast of Big Sur in 1938, targeted conservation efforts have aided in the recovery of the species to greater than 2,700 individuals today.

Currently listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act, proper conservation and management of this population requires reliable information on current and potential future trends in abundance and distribution, data on patterns and causes of mortality, and analyses of the demographic drivers of population change. The cooperative unit of US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz along with other collaborators in California has established a long-term research program to obtain that information.

Radio telemetry-based population studies are ongoing in the Monterey Bay area, including Elkhorn Slough. In study areas, sea otters are captured, bio-sampled, instrumented with VHF transmitters and archival time-depth recorders, and then released to be monitored for the subsequent 3 year period. Data are collected on age-specific survival, reproduction, individual health, contaminant exposure, disease incidence, diet and feeding behavior, activity budgets, individual movements and habitat use. By contrasting data collected among various sub-populations inferences can be made about the relationships between near-shore water quality, chemical/pathogen pollution, and sea otter population health and ecological community structures.

Check the Intern/Volunteer webpage for current opportunities.
Send a cover letter and resume/CV to: werc@ucsc.edu.
Keywords: intern; volunteer; field work; winter; spring; summer; fall; senior thesis; senior capstone
Targeted Students/ Eligibity Requirements: 
  • Interns must be able to commit to a minimum 2-quarter or 6 month internship •Interns must be available for 12+ hours a week (in shifts of at least 4 hours)
  • Interns must possess a valid driver’s license and a clean driving record. Vehicles will be provided to and from field site when available.
  • Interns must demonstrate strong attention to detail as well as excellent organizational/record-keeping skills
  • Interns must have the ability to conduct strenuous outdoor fieldwork in a variety of environmental/weather conditions
  • Interns must work well independently as well as part of a team
  • A strong understanding of ecology or upper-division coursework in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology or Environmental Studies is preferred
  • Previous fieldwork experience including the use of GPS, binoculars, spotting scopes, and/or handheld computers preferred
  • Ideal candidates are highly interested and motivated to perform ecological research; Senior thesis/capstone projects are encouraged and available.
Program Time Period: 
Academic Year
All Year
Academic Credit
Approximate Number of UCSC Students (Each Year): 
up to 6
Sarah Espinosa
Contact Title: 
Internship Coordinator
Contact Email: 
Faculty Director: 
Tim Tinker
Ecology and Evolution
Environmental Studies