California Sea Otter Resurgence: One Step Forward Two Steps Back

A head pops up out of the ocean with a great mane of hair. At four feet and sixty five pounds, this sea stud spends most of his day grooming the sometimes one million hairs per square inch that cover the Sea Otter’s body. There’s no blubber on this sleek physique most likely from putting diving champions to shame by dropping underwater from sixty to three hundred and thirty feet. While their lung capacity is two and a half times the size of average mammals, they can only stay underwater for a breath, which can hold them for up to five minutes.

Off the coast of California Sea Otters feed off of over forty marine invertebrates including abalone, mussels, sea urchins, clams, crabs and snails to name a few. Putting themselves in an elite category of mammals, Sea Otters use tools to pry food from rocks, or to smash open shells. Their catlike claws retract like a cat’s for grooming and eating which is important as they eat twenty to twenty five percent of their body weight each day. Not only that, but they have a built-in dinner table: their bellies. They even have pockets of skin under the forelegs to stash food for their trip from sea bed to water’s surface.

Using their surroundings, which used to span the globe but are now limited to a few locations such as Japan, Russia, Canada, Alaska and California, sea otters wrap themselves in kelp to prevent floating away while they eat a snack. Kelp is also used to wrap around a pup and keep them close. Kelp beds are a plentiful source of food for sea otters. While a large population of sea otters can wipe out abalone and crabs that fishermen make their living off of, otters were once heavily hunted for their fur. From over a million, otters have been reduced to less than a hundred thousand worldwide. Considered a threatened species, approximately 2,750 southern sea otters live in coastal California waters.

Females weighing about forty five pounds outlive the males by up to five years with males living to be ten or fifteen. Mating season lasts throughout the year with a gestation period of six to eight months. Twins are rare and hard to feed, so most litters tend to have only a single cub. Humans getting too close can cause a mother to dive with their young. Too much diving and the pup can drown. Mothers raise their cubs until about eight months when the young cubs strike out on their own.

Because they don’t have blubber, sea otters push air bubbles into their fur to help insulate them against the cold. However, if dirt or oil spills clog their fur, sea otters can die from freezing water temperatures. Other threats to sea otters are eagles and coyotes who like to feast on the furry critters.

Sea Otter Sightings:

A few great places to find sea otters are:

Point Lobos State Reserve – From December to May, sea otters can be found from hiking trails that follow the shoreline and weave in and out of coves.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area – Join up with the Golden Gate Audubon Society for a sea watch that includes the Marbled Murrelet, California Sea Otter, and Steller Sea Lion

California Sea Otter Game Refuge: Runs from the Carmel River in Carmel to Santa Rosa Creek in Cambria.

Reported by Elizabeth Richardson

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