Science Center Objects

Scientists at the Santa Cruz Field Station study sea otters and seabirds in their environment. The USGS Western Ecological Research Center has two research missions based in the Santa Cruz region:


USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center
2885 Mission St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Office: (831) 460-7566
Fax: (831) 427-4709



Sea Otter Studies and Coastal Ecology Team
Principal Investigator: Julie Yee
Joseph Tomoleoni
Michael Kenner

Seabird Studies Team
Principal Investigator: Josh Adams
Jon Felis
Emma Kelsey
Cheryl Horton
Laney White




Sea Otter

Photo of a sea otter (Enhydra lutris) at Elkhorn Slough, CA. (Public domain.)

WERC research focuses on this smallest marine mammal’s population biology and its role as a keystone species in the nearshore marine community. WERC scientists conducting long-term research in California and Alaska seek to answer complex ecological questions, and they work with partners including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Coastal Conservancy, Monterey Bay Aquarium, University of California-Santa Cruz, University of California-Davis, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Santa Barbara Zoo, other scientists, and various conservation organizations (most notably Defenders of Wildlife). The sea otter program also coordinates closely with the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission.

Research on sea otters is mandated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the U.S. Endangered Species Act, due to the listing of several populations of sea otters as threatened. And with the attention given to the poor health of earth’s ocean ecosystems, the threats of overfishing, climate change, pollution, emergent diseases, invasive species, and loss of bio-diversity -- the sea otter is increasingly recognized as a bellwether for the health of near-shore marine ecosystems of western North America. Sea otters are useful as a sentinel species because they are relatively easy to observe, their sensitivity to many of the same factors that threaten other marine species as well as human health, and their important role as “keystone predators” in these systems.



The WERC Santa Cruz seabird team focuses on seabirds of the Pacific Ocean, primarily species that utilize the waters off California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii.  Their research can broadly be categorized as:

Photo of red-tailed tropicbird

Photo of a Red-tailed Tropicbird (Phaethon rubricauda) in flight. (Credit: Jonathan Felis, USGS. Public domain.)

Seabird Ecology and Marine Planning

Dr. Adams and team use aerial surveys and telemetry to inform marine spatial planning. In addition, they are interested in quantifying species vulnerabilities based on spatial distributions, habitat characteristics, behaviors and life histories.

  • Seabird and marine mammal aerial surveys for marine spatial planning
  • Tracking seabirds at sea
  • Seabird vulnerability assessments

Seabird Health and Adaptive Management

The seabird studies team develops and applies innovative and traditional methods to assess seabird populations and trends in abundance. They also explore ways to evaluate impacts of invasive species on seabird colonies and study how habitat restoration influences seabird health. 

Dr. Adams and colleagues conduct WERC seabird research with partners that include the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Navy, universities and laboratories within the California State University and University of California systems, and non-governmental organizations. WERC seabird research spans the Pacific Ocean from the California Channel Islands, Oregon, and Washington, to as far away as Hawaii and Chile.