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*
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!
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!