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Laboratory of Holly Ernest

Sea Otters

Sea Otters

Sea otterSea Otter Population Genetics

Lab researchers: Erick Gagne, Holly Ernest
Collaborators: Dr. Melissa Miller, California Department of Fish and Wildlife; Dr. Tim Tinker and Dr. Max Tarjan, University of California, Santa Cruz and USGS; Dr. Katherine Ralls, Smithsonian Institution; Dr. Shawn Larson, Seattle Aquarium

Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) play a key role in the kelp forests along the Central California coast. However the fur trade in the 18th century nearly wiped out the species.

Despite their placement on the Endangered Species List in 1977 the populations have been very slow to recover. Every year many otters fall victim to disease, parasites, pollution and occasionally are injured by humans. Together with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care & Research Center we are working to develop a large and informative suite of genetic markers to help track the flow of disease through the otter populations of California.


Sea Otter Publications

  • Mitogenomes and relatedness do not predict frequency of tool use by sea otters. In press. Biology Letters. Katherine Ralls, Nancy Rotzel McInerney, Roderick Bashore Gagne, Holly B. Ernest, M. Tim Tinker, Jessica Fujii, Jesus Maldonado.
  • Sea otter genetic markers developed. 2016. Lam L, RB Gagne, HB Ernest. Conservation Genetics Resources 8:43–81. Development of 24 polymorphic microsatellite loci for the threatened Southern (California) sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis)


Sea Otter Resources