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Otterly Amazing Sea Otters

A police officer sees a man driving around with a pickup truck full of sea otters.  He turns on his lights and pulls the guy over saying, “you can’t drive around with sea otters in this town!  Take them to the zoo immediately.”  The guy says “OK”… and drives away.  The next day, the officer sees the guy still driving around with the truck full of sea otters, and they’re all wearing sun glasses.  He pulls the guy over and with anger asks, “I thought I told you to take these otters to the zoo yesterday?”  The guy replies., “I did . . . today I’m taking them to the beach!”

*insert rimshot here*

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California Sea Otter

Last night I came home from my book club and watched an amazingly interesting documentary with Paul, National Geographic: Big Sur – Wild California.  For those of you who have been to Big Sur will know that this part of California’s Central Coast is home to one of the most incredibly diverse ecosystems on Earth.  Here, nature and wildlife have evolved in drastic ways to survive.   Big Sur is home to many unique species of wildlife including the highly endangered California Condors, San Joaquin Kit Fox, California Sea Lions, California Tiger Salamanders, and of course the California Sea Otters.

Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris) are an aquatic member of the weasel family.  They spend most of their time in the water, which is easy to do when you have webbed feet, nostrils and ears that close in the water, and water-repellent fur to keep them dry and warm.    Sea Otters are meticulously clean!  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, as it helps them to stay waterproof and insulated against the cold.  Unlike seals, sea otters don’t have insulating fat (blubber) to keep them warm in frigid 35 -60 degree ocean waters.  They have air-bubble-trapping fur – the densest fur of any animal on Earth.  Each square inch of their bodies are covered with 600,000 to 1,000,000 hairs.  An entire human head has only about 100,000 hairs!  

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Sea otters often float at the water’s surface, lying on their backs in a posture of serene repose. They sleep this way, often gathered in groups.

Sea otters often float at the water’s surface, lying on their backs in a posture of serene repose. They sleep this way, often gathered in groups. Otters sometimes float in forests of kelp, or giant seaweed, where they entangle themselves to provide anchorage in the swirling sea.

These aquatic otters do more than sleep while floating on their backs. They are often seen with a clam or mussel and a rock that has been deftly snared from the ocean floor. Otters will place the rock on their chests, and repeatedly smash the shellfish against it until it breaks open to reveal the tasty meal inside. They also dine on aquatic creatures, such as sea urchins, crabs, squid, octopuses, and fish.

Sea Otters are the only otters to give birth in the water. Mothers nurture their young while floating on their backs. They hold infants on their chests to nurse them, and quickly teach them to swim and hunt.

The California Sea Otter survived a close brush with extinction early in the 20th century, but today, under protection of the Endangered Species Act, they’re expanding their range and increasing their numbers.  By the 1930’s, most people believed that this subspecies of sea otter had vanished, wiped out by fur traders who coveted its rich pelt.  In 1938, however, a small group of otters were discovered living near the mouth of Bixby Creek along California’s Big Sur coast.  From those few survivors, the otter has increased its numbers to more than 2,000 today.  Growth has been particularly impressive during the past decade, when otter numbers increased by nearly 50%!

Conservation works!   If we can see such a population increase with such an enchanting species, Sea Otters should inspire us to be advocates for other Ocean dwelling and dependent species which remain gravely endangered.   Change begins with us!

Have an “otterly” wonderful Friday!

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It’s Shark Week

For those of you who are old enough to remember, Discovery Channel launched its first week-long series of Shark Week on July 17, 1987.   I don’t remember when I actually started watching the series, but I estimate that it was somewhere around the summer of 1989.   I’ve always loved sharks.  I suppose I was one of the fortunate kids who never really believed that man-eating great white sharks patrolled the shores of seaside beaches, searching for their next bite of human flesh, as so ignorantly portrayed in the Jaws films.

I grew up in sunny Southern California.   The beaches and the Pacific Ocean were all a normal part of life for my family.   I actually remember my first real-life experience with a shark when I was around 4 or 5 years old.  My dads had a pretty awesome little sailboat that we would launch in San Diego’s Mission Bay, and would always head out of the bay into the big, blue Pacific Ocean.   We would always jump overboard and swim in the open water.  One afternoon a larger mako or blue shark swam into our area and spent a few minutes swimming around us before losing interest and venturing on.   Of course we made our way back on board the sailboat with our hearts pumping a little more stronger than usual, but surprisingly we were more honored and excited than scared.  Over the years I’ve had many more fortunate encounters with these majestic creatures in various dives in California, Hawaii, and Mexico.

In the past several seasons of Shark Week I’ve noticed a decline in educating viewers and a rise in feeding the typical fearsome stereotypes of these misunderstood predators.   The first sharks lived around 400 million years ago, with most sharks developing during the Cretaceous period – over 64 million years ago.  Today there are over 400 species of sharks, and they are found in every ocean of the world, with some species also found in rivers.   One third of oceanic shark species are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species which means they are seriously threatened by the possibility of extinction.  Scientists even estimate that shark populations in the north-west Atlantic Ocean alone have declined by an average of 50% since the mid 1970s!   Jaws was released  as a film in 1975, and was based on a fictional New England seaside town named, Amity Island.   You do the math…

There are many ongoing issues and circumstances which continue to threaten sharks such as overfishing, phobias, loss of habitat and food source(s), climate change, oceanic pollution, and the wealth sought in the shark fin industry.   As STOP SHARK FINNING states, “Every year tens of millions of sharks die a slow death because of finning. Finning is the inhumane practice of hacking off the shark’s fins and throwing its still living body back into the sea. The sharks either starve to death, are eaten alive by other fish, or drown (if they are not in constant movement their gills cannot extract oxygen from the water). Shark fins are being “harvested” in ever greater numbers to feed the growing demand for shark fin soup, an Asian “delicacy”.

Shark Fins

Since the 1970s the populations of several species have been decimated by over 95% – shark finning is a devastating contributor to this.

This is probably one of the most horrific and barbaric practices that is as equally criminal as the killing elephants simply to “harvest” their ivory tusks.   Fortunately many animal rights and conservation groups have stepped up to the plate and have refused to let this issue go away.

And sadly there is a global pandemic of galeophobia, a fear of sharks.   Are you afraid of sharks?  Did you know:

  • You have a 1 in 63 chance of dying from the flu and a 1 in 11 million chance of being killed by a shark during your lifetime.
  • Over 17,000 people die from falls each year. That’s a 1 in 218 chance over your lifetime, compared to a 1 in 11 million chance of being killed by a shark.
  • In 1996:  toilets injured 43,000 Americans a year.  2,600 Americans were injured by room fresheners. Buckets and pails injured almost 11,000 Americans.   However, sharks only injured 13.
  • For every human killed by a shark, humans kill about two million sharks.  (Read that one again!)

Even with these known facts, the ongoing research to study their behavior as well as their alarming population decreases, sharks are pretty much open game.   If they’re not hunted, they die in fishing nets and even shark proof nets, which many Australian beach communities have gone so far to install.   They do this in a desperate attempt to protect their revenue by providing tourists with a false sense of security instead of discussing the ongoing problems and issues which humans are to blame for.   In the end, countless sharks wind up being the losers.

The last thing I want to do is put a damper on anyone’s Shark Week, especially for shark geeks such as myself, and so many of my fellow friends, but we need to speak out!   Pay close attention to this series and see if you notice any fear-selling, misinformation, or downright absurdities!   Don’t let Discovery Communications define Shark Week, we must be Shark Week!  Let us put our passion into play and help educate our friends, family members, co-workers, etc.   Let’s hit the “like” and “subscribe” buttons of the many great shark conservation groups and organizations.   For those of us who are fortunate enough to have the means, lets go diving!   For those who have never dived, look into it learning!    Our oceans are an amazing ecosystem that we’re still learning about on a daily basis.   Let’s be apart of that process!

 

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