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Search for the Missing Sea Otters

An Ecological Detective Story

Co Authors:

Mary Allen
Department of Biology
Hartwick College

Mark L. Kuhlmann
Department of Biology
Hartwick College


Using a progressive disclosure format, this case study teaches students how to apply ecological principles to a real-life ecological problem, namely, the decline in sea otter populations in Alaska. Students interpret data from graphs and tables and practice developing testable hypotheses as they work in groups to solve the mystery of the “missing” sea otters.  Designed to serve as a framework for teaching an ecology module to first-year biology majors, the case introduces students to basic concepts of population and community ecology.

  • Interpret data from graphs and tables.
  • Practice developing testable hypotheses.
  • Understand indirect effects in biological communities.
  • Learn about sea otter, killer whale, and kelp forest ecology.
Keywords: Sea otter; killer whale; Orcinus orca; marine mammal; population ecology; community ecology; kelp bed; predator; predation; ecological energetics; Alaska
Topical Area: Scientific method
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Ecology   Environmental Science   Biology (General)   Zoology   Marine Science / Oceanography  
Date Posted: 03/14/02
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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