I find sea otters so adorable, and it is worth going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium just to watch their antics up close.
Sea otters are protected as a threatened species under the 1972 Endangered Species Act, and small populations can be found along the coasts of Russia, Alaska and Central California.
By the 1900’s, the Southern sea otter was thought to be extinct due to being intensely hunted for their warm, luxurious pelt. But in 1915, biologists discovered that a group of about 50 otters had survived in a remote Big Sur cove. In order to protect these last survivors, the biologists kept them a secret — up until 1938. These biologist were great secret-keepers!
That secret — and protection under the Endangered Species Act — have helped to increase the sea otter population on the California coast to around 2,500. This is still a small number and other environmental risks like a major oil spill remains a serious threat to the population.
Jeff took these pictures of a napping sea otter, on the terrace,right outside the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They anchor themselves with kelp so they do not drift away while resting.
Suddenly, this otter’s (one) eye popped open…
So okay, upon closer look, it is possible that both eyes were open…it’s just from the angle of the photograph, it looked like the otter was giving us a one-eyed peek.
Why are sea otters important? According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website,
Sea otters are an iconic species, representing the beauty and diversity of life in Monterey Bay. They’re also a keystone species, helping keep ocean ecosystems in balance. They eat sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. Without sea otters, these grazing animals can destroy kelp forests and the animals that live there.
Sea otters are also good indicators of ocean health. Since they are the top predator of invertebrates along the Central California coast, changes in their health can make scientists aware of variations in the ocean environment itself.
It is fascinating that the California sea otters we see today are all descended from that tiny Big Sur colony!
And so, though they do still struggle, this fact gives me hope that the endangered Philippine Eagle (see my post earlier this month) may rebound if we are able to keep intact, their remaining forest home.
For cool sea otter facts — like the fact that they have the densest fur in the world, of up to a million hairs PER SQUARE INCH (compared to 100,000 hairs on our entire head — or less for some of us) —click here or visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program web page.