From 1741 to 1911 sea otters were hunted so heavily by Russian and Yankee fur traders that they were thought to be extinct along the California coast. However, sometime in 1911 a small population of 50 sea otters was rediscovered along the Big Sur coast. Luckily the sea otter became protected by the International Fur Seal Treaty in 1911 and by the State of California in 1913.
A sea otter is kept warm only by it's fur coat. They have no blubber to keep them warm like whales, seals and other mammals living in the sea. The sea otter's fur consists of millions of tiny hairs, over 400,000 per square inch, which must be kept clean. Sea otters spend hours every day grooming their coats trapping air within the hairs which provides insulation much like a wetsuit provides insulation for divers and surfers. If an otter can't keep its fur clean it will die from exposure.
Before the sea otter was reintroduced into the Monterey Bay in 1963 the kelp forest had been devastated by unchecked populations of sea urchin and abalone. The abundant sea life we enjoy in our bay was only a small fraction of what we have today. Sea otters play an important role in maintaining the balance of sea life in the bay. That said, not all sea otters eat abalone, and not all eat sea urchins. It's been found that sea otters learn to eat whatever diet their mothers enjoyed, much like humans tend to gravitate to the flavors they grew accustomed to as children. Their diet consists of mostly invertebrates including mussels, clams, snails, squids, octopuses, crabs, sea stars, and more. Some are opportunistic and will just feed on whatever is available, but studies find that many stay within the "mother preference" diet.
The southern sea otter is a threatened and endangered animal.
SORAC (Sea Otter Research and Conservation) is a program established by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1984 to study and try to save the southern sea otter. To date 540 stranded sea otters have entered into the program. As much as possible the animals are rehabbed and released back into the wild. Sometimes their injuries leave them too vulnerable and they are either kept on exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium or they are adopted by another aquarium or zoo.
Currently the sea otter exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is undergoing renovations and will be closed until March 2013. In the meantime there is a great new station set up on the aquarium's deck allowing people to observe and learn more about the otters in the wild, many of whom are tracked by SORAC. Recently one of the sea otters who was a successful rescue and has been reintroduced to the wild, was observed paddling by on her back, very close to the deck, with her new pup resting on her stomach.
It is important to remember that as cute as the sea otters are they are still wild animals with very sharp teeth. Kayakers, boaters, and others out on the bay, or the ocean, need to keep a distance from the animals of 100 feet, or more, for their own protection as well as that of the animals.
For more information on SORAC and sea otters please click the link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium at the side of this blog.
In bocca al lupo. m & v