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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

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    September 20-26, 2020
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The Sea Otter Savvy program strives to foster responsible behavior by users of the marine environment while they are viewing and recreating near sea otters.

Along the central California coast, there are places that provide both excellent opportunities for human ocean recreation activities and desirable habitat for sea otters. When the favorite places of both humans and sea otters overlap, interactions between them are inevitable. These interactions can be positive (harmonious for both human and sea otter) or negative (disturbance to sea otters and/or injury to human).

We at Sea Otter Savvy believe that most disturbance to sea otters is unintentional, motivated not by the intent to do harm but by lack of awareness. Essential to preventing disturbance before it occurs is an understanding of the unique vulnerability of sea otters and the importance of a healthy sea otter population to our coastal ecosystem. With outreach and education, we hope to increase awareness of the importance of protecting sea otters as part of our coastal community, and inspire everyone sharing the coastal environment with sea otters to adopt responsible viewing guidelines and share them with others.

Together we can create a “sea otter savvy” community promoting responsible wildlife viewing, awareness of the effect our behavior can have on sea otters and other wildlife, and a safer, healthier coastal environment for all of us, otter and human alike.

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Latest From Sea Otter Savvy

Winning Wildlife Storytellers

Our Winning Wildlife Storytellers

Wildlife Storytellers First place winner, Respect the Nap, by Allison Gregor

The mission of the Wildlife Storytellers Photo Contest is to promote photography as a medium for sharing stories about the deep relationships between organisms and the places they live. More than portraits of individual species, winning photos will tell a story about the relationship between a species within the context of the habitat it lives in, to inspire a deeper awareness and appreciation for the conservation of intact ecosystems and biodiversity. We aim to transform this aspiration for eye contact portraits to those that celebrate ecosystems and capture meaningful images that tell the stories of animal life in wild places.

We’d like to congratulate the winners of this year’s Wildlife Storytellers contest and thank all of the participating photographers. We received excellent entries that promoted our mission for ethical wildlife photography while emphasizing ecological storytelling. We hope you enjoy the winning photographs and their unique stories.

First Place:  Allison Gregor with ‘Respect the Nap’

Southern sea otter, taken from a quiet nursery viewing area in Morro Bay approximately 30 ft onshore behind a barrier fence. Canon 7Dii at 600mm (equiv. to 960mm focal length), photo not cropped, Dec 25, 2019Southern sea otter, taken from a quiet nursery viewing area in Morro Bay approximately 30 ft onshore behind a barrier fence. Canon 7Dii at 600mm (equiv. to 960mm focal length), photo not cropped, Dec 25, 2019

On a visit to Morro Bay last year, I came across an area known to locals as "the nursery", a quiet area for groups of sea otter moms to sleep, eat and teach their pups the ways of the world. I have spent countless hours watching the interactions between mom and pup at that location. Sea otter moms rule!

After sea otters give birth at sea they become 24/7 caregivers over the next 6-8 months. Along the way, mom will teach her pup how to swim, maintain its fur and eventually how to forage for its food. Sea otter moms will have been pushed to their absolute limits by the time the pup is old enough to be fully independent. 

Did you know that non-nursing sea otters have to eat roughly 25% of their body weight per day? They have huge energetic requirements and need to consume large amounts of food. Unlike most marine mammals, sea otters do not have layers of blubber instead relying on their thick fur to stay warm. A lot of energy is used to maintain their fur as well as foraging for food. If they are nursing or caring for a pup, even more energy is needed and their daily food requirement can be twice as much as those without pups. Some sea otter moms can spend up to 14 hours per day foraging!

So, whenever you see sleeping sea otters, think of all they need to do to care for their pups. Any disturbance to their sleep can be detrimental, not only to the mom but to her pup as well. 

                                                        — Allison Gregor

Runner Up: Kathleen Curtis with ‘Panic of the King Tide’

Photo taken at 300+ meters with a Canon EOS Rebel T6S using a 210 mm telephoto lens. Photo taken at 300+ meters with a Canon EOS Rebel T6S using a 210 mm telephoto lens.

This photograph was taken at Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery, in San Simeon, CA in January 2019 during the King Tide-the highest tide of the year. This unfortunately coincided with a strong Pacific storm, covering the beach in surf. In this image, new born elephant seal pups are struggling to stay on the beach, while the raging surf pulls them out to sea. These young pups do not yet know how to swim and their blubber layer is insufficient for the cold water. This image captures their brave struggle to survive.

— Kathleen Curtis

Honorable Mention: Sharon Hsu with ‘Mom’s Home’

Moss Landing, CA, Canon EOS 7D, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-4.5L IS USMoss Landing, CA, Canon EOS 7D, EF 100-400mm f/4.5-4.5L IS US

A snowy plover makes its way back to her nest to incubate her eggs. One of the last nests of yet another difficult breeding season for these small shorebirds, extra efforts were made by conservationists to protect this particular nest. The breeding pair may have been first time breeders, as the nest was constructed in an exposed area of the beach, and unfortunately, a week after this photo was taken, the eggs were swept away by an unusually high tide. 

— Sharon Hsu

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Sea Otter Savvy is an official Research Affiliate of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories