A Morro Bay sea otter preens itself in calm waters.
The Pacific coast’s most charismatic critters can’t seem to catch a break. Hunted close to extinction for their lush pelts in the 19th century, sea otters had been making a comeback, foraging in the kelp beds of California’s Central Coast. But a recent census puts their average population at 2,700, down nearly 4 percent over the last few years. Shark attacks, contaminated river runoff, and a limited food supply are all contributing to the die-off, studies suggest.
Californians can help, says Jim Curland, a biologist with Defenders of Wildlife. Fill in the “CA Sea Otter Fund” line on your next state income tax form to donate a dollar or more to research on protecting otters and their habitat. (For details, go to defenders.org and enter “tax check-off” in the search box.) To view some otters in the wild, visit one of these hot spots.
Año Nuevo State Park Otters join the elephant seals and sea lions dodging sharks in the channel off Año Nuevo Point. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523.
Monterey Scan the bay off Cannery Row, especially near the Monterey Bay Aquarium, site of an outstanding otter exhibit. montereybayaquarium.org.
Morro Bay A small group, including moms with pups, enjoys the rich kelp beds near Morro Rock. morrobay.org.
Moss Landing Dozens of sea otters “raft” together in the busy Harbor Channel close to shore. mosslandingchamber.com.
Olympic Peninsula A northern subspecies of sea otter inhabits the ocean strip of Washington’s Olympic National Park. Drive to Lake Ozette, then hike to Cape Alava or Sand Point. Take your binoculars. nps.gov/olym.
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve In 1938 otters spotted a dozen miles south of here marked the start of the species’ rebound on the Central Coast. Today, many can be seen splashing in Whalers Cove. parks.ca.gov/?page_id=571.
Santa Cruz Spy otters (and surfers) at Pleasure Point, south of the city center. santacruz.org.
Photography by Mike Baird (Wikipedia)
This article was first published in March 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.