Who can resist those lovable Southern Sea Otters, and what better place to visit them than Moss landing, and Monterey Bay in Central California?
Sea Otters have not always been seen as the cute and cuddly Marine Mammals as we know them to be today. In Fact, It is estimated that the worldwide population of sea otters once numbered between several hundred thousand to over one million before being nearly hunted to extinction by fur traders in the 1700s and 1800s. Sea Otters were thought to be extinct from fur hunting until a raft of up 32 individuals were found in a cove off of Big Sur, California in 1938.
Sea otters gained protection with the signing of the International Fur Seal Treaty of 1911 and became listed under the Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts in the 1970s. Worldwide, numbers have slowly recovered but still stand far below original population numbers. While sea otters are vulnerable to natural predators, their populations are significantly impacted by several human factors as well, such as fishing nets, oil spills, and illegal hunting.
Sea otters spend about 3 hours a day grooming themselves. After eating, they wash themselves in the ocean, cleaning their coat with their teeth and paws. They have good reason to take care of their coats—it helps them to remain waterproof and insulated against the cold waters. Let’s face it they spend 98% of their time in the chilly waters, where they eat, rest, hunt, groom, and give birth. Sea otters have thick underfur that traps air to form an insulating layer against the chilly waters, and they are the only marine mammal without a layer of blubber. Sea Otters’ fur has 1,000,000 hairs per square inch, and a human head has about 100,000 hairs on their entire head. Sea Otters have the densest fur of any animal in the entire animal kingdom. The biggest threat to a sea otters coat would be a significant oil spill. Oil that gets on a coat of a sea otter will cause its coat to get matted, and the warmth that would normally be traped is lost causing the sea otter to become severely hypothermic and die.
Sea Otters pups are around 5 pounds at birth, and 10 inches long. They spend about 6 months to 8 months with their mother, where she will teach her pup all it needs to know to survive on its own, such as grooming, forging, how to use tools to open shells, how to escape predators. When the pups are born they physically are unable to sink due to all of their fur that makes them too buoyant. When the mother goes off to hunt, she will leave her pup on the surface wrapped in the kelp to keep it from floating away. The mom and pup have an extremely strong bond, and imprint at birth. This is when the pup and mother cry to each other so if they were to get separated the mother will recognize her pups unique cry.
Sea otters have a very healthy appetite, in fact, they must eat about 25% of their body weight every day. This means they are capable of eating up to 1,500 sea urchins a day which is equivalent to us eating 75 quarter pounder hamburgers every day. Sea otters eat a variety of sea creatures such as
Sea Otters have a greater effect on their environment than other species do. They are so important when it comes to maintaining the balance of the kelp ecosystems near-shore, as they prey on sea urchins that would otherwise devour our kelp forests which serves as food and shelter for many other marine animals. Sea Otters also use kelp to keep themselves anchored while they rest so they don’t drift to the open ocean where they may fall prey to larger predators. Sea Otters also indirectly help reduce the levels of a conventional greenhouse gas, known as carbon dioxide, as kelp forest play a major role in capturing carbon dioxide in coastal ecosystems, as well as absorbing storm surge that could do damage to our shores.
Sea Otters are can be shy but have also been known to approach divers and kayakers in the water. Best thing to do is to keep your distance between them. They are cute and cuddly but remember they are wild animals with very sharp teeth. Enjoy them from a distance, and if you choose to photograph them I would suggest a longer lens such as a 200mm to a 400mm. Most important enjoy yourself and keep on shooting.