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Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem Library Binding – January 1, 2017
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"A young scientist's doctoral research reveals a surprising relationship between sea grasses and sea otters in a California bay. Valuable sea grasses in Elkhorn Slough, in Northern California, were thriving in spite of heavy nutrient pollution from nearby Salinas Valley farms. When Brent Hughes began his investigation of this mystery, he looked at things directly affecting sea-grass growth, such as weather patterns. It wasn't until he compared sea grass cover with otter population that he found a match. In discussions with other researchers, the young white biologist learned that otters like to eat big, meaty crabs, which feed on sea hares, a type of sea slug that in turn feeds on algae growth that smothers the grasses. Following usual procedures, he then designed experiments to prove his hypothesis that the thriving otter population made the sea grass flourish. This intriguing description of the problem he saw and his research process is a model of the scientific method. Interspersed with chapters describing the mystery, the development of the hypothesis, the proof, and the larger idea of 'trophic cascades' (interactions among predators and prey that begin at the top of the food chain) are sections about otters and about sea-grass science in general. A map, ample photographs, and an attractive design add appeal, and there are sensible suggestions for environmental protection. A thoughtfully organized and attractively presented example of science in the field."--starred, Kirkus Reviews
With their big eyes; soft, furry faces; and playful behavior, sea otters are a favorite marine mammal among kids and teens. Protective measures have stabilized sea otter numbers after the mammals once came close to extinction. Only recently, through the work of marine biologist Brent Hughes, has their role in maintaining ecosystems come to light. The Elkhorn Slough, an inlet of Monterey Bay in Northern California, is a nutrient-polluted estuary fed by the fertilizers and pesticides used in nearby farming. This work chronicles the mystery of why this ecosystem is far healthier than scientists would expect. Using the tools of scientific research, Hughes has discovered that sea otters, the top predators in the food chain, help keep the sea grass algae-free through their feeding habits, which in turn allows the growth of a fish population and preserves a natural barrier to storms. The step-by-step process of ascertaining that the sea otter was responsible for the thriving ecosystem provides a strong example of the value and excitement of primary research. Clear, full-color photographs show how Hughes confirmed his theory. However, this title resembles a picture book, which may deter older readers. VERDICT: A very informative selection for environmental studies."--School Library Journal
Top customer reviews
It was inevitable that a nutrient-rich slough would have dire consequences because “the algae can glom on to the seagrass and prevent sunlight from reaching the leaves.” The seagrass should have withered and died, but oddly enough, the seagrass in the Elkhorn Slough flourished. One interesting thing that Brent noticed was the fact that there were so many sea hares at work cleaning the seagrass. He called the “lawn movers, because they keep the seagrass clean.” Of course if the seagrass wasn’t clean, that algae would take over and it would die off rapidly. The fact that there was an abundance of sea hares in the slough was a major clue.
If Brent found out why there were so many, this “might unlock the mystery of the seagrass.” The history of the Elkhorn Slough was surprisingly well-documented over the years, but this information needed a closer look. There was a lot of information available from aerial photographs to actual data sheets gathered from passengers on the Elkhorn Slough Safari tour boats from Moss Landing. Could information gathered by tourists actually prove to have scientific significance in solving the mystery of the Elkhorn Slough? Very possibly so Brent “needed to compare seagrass coverage with other things happening in the slough at the same time.” Yep, the tourists’ information was yet another clue to think about!
As a scientist, Brent had to “think like a scientist” and approach the mystery using the scientific method. When he began, he “developed a list of hypotheses, or assumptions, to explain why seagrass in Elkhorn Slough seemed to thrive despite the high level of nutrients.” Brent compared his data to other estuaries, checked out weather patterns, and then took a closer look at Captain Yohn Gideon’s passenger data sheets. Those sixteen years worth of sheets were quite telling. There was something about those sea otters frequently the slough that caught Brent’s eye. “Clearly,” he thought, “sea otters were somehow linked to seagrass health,” but just what was the connection? There was a real eco-mystery at hand, but could Brent solve it?
This is a fascinating eco-mystery about sea otters and the Elkhorn Slough young readers will devour. It’s a great one for not only science buffs, but also mystery lovers. The most interesting thing is that the solution to this modern-day mystery could have serious consequences in the coming years ... positive ones. The impact of Brent’s research is stunning and readers, young and old, will love reading about why the otters are heroes. The book has numerous full-color photographs, charts, graphs, and informative sidebars. For example, one outlines the scientific method Brent followed, one that students will learn about in their classroom studies. In the back of the book is an index, a glossary, a “Seagrass Science” project, source notes, a selected bibliography, and additional recommended book and website resources to explore.
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This book courtesy of the publisher.
The book is not for young children as there is a lot of text and detail, but certainly middlegrade students studying ecosystems would get a lot out of this book. The photographs add so much to the book and make it easier to understand. A good book to have in school and public libraries. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.