Torch Bay, Glacier Bay National Park

Torch Bay is a narrow embayment, about 7 miles (11.3 km) north of Cape Spencer on the Gulf of Alaska, that extends about 2 miles (3.2 km) in a northern direction. This was the site of a field camp established by the University of Washington in the 1970's to study the effects of sea otter reintroduction. The early Russian settling of Alaska was largely a result of the sea otter fur industry. An estimated 300,000 sea otters populated the West Coast of North America when Captain James Cook explored the area in 1778, but with as many as 18,000 pelts being collected yearly by trading ships, the sea otters were quickly wiped out. Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867, and in 1911 the sea otter population was estimated at less than 2,000. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reintroduced 412 sea otters from Amchitka Island, where the Atomic Energy Commission was condicting underground nuclear weapons testing, and Prince William Sound to six sites in Southeast Alaska between 1965 and 1969. Interestingly, the studies in Torch Bay showed that where otters were reintroduced, there were extensive kelp beds and diverse ecosystems, but where otters weren't found, sea urchins thrived but many other species did not. Sea urchins are a preferred food of sea otters so the effect of sea otter predation on urchins was profound. In areas with sea otters there were fewer urchins but more kelp beds, more fish, and more seabirds and eagles. Learn more here and here.  Click here to download the CoastView app and explore more of Torch Bay.