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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

Capturing wild sea otters on film can be an essential tool for inspiring awareness and stewardship of this unique and charismatic marine mammal. Sea otter photographers can share their savvy by including information about their location relative to the otter ("I was on shore 100 yards away"), the focal length of the lens used, and confirmation that they did not disrupt the sea otters' behavior in any way. Be a storyteller: how does iyour image showcase sea otter natural history, ecology, or conservation? What was your story behind the capture of this photo?  Here are some of our favorite savvy photographers who really give a voice to sea otters through their images:

Would you like to be featured here? Tag @SeaOtterSavvy on your sea otter photos on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. We will provide honest, private feedback on photos in which we have been tagged, and we may recruit you to our Sea Otter Savvy Photographers team!

collage-savvy-not-savvyTop left: Savvy! Top right: Not savvy; all otters alert to the camera. Bottom left: Savvy and respecting the nap! Bottom right: Not savvy; alert and ready to flee the approaching photographer.Sea otters are a popular subject for photography and video. In the age of the internet, images depicting sea otters in both wild and captive settings are easy to find, like, and share. At Sea Otter Savvy we encourage enjoyment of the many wonderful images of sea otters, but with a healthy dose of awareness and scrutiny.

We love to see images of animals of all kinds looking at us---eye contact from the subject being standard for portraits that seem to engage the viewer in the moment. With sea otters, it is difficult to know whether that eye contact was a lucky moment caught with a telephoto lens, or the result of the sea otter noticing the photographer’s presence. While a gaze turned toward a photographer does not itself constitute a disturbance, it does shift the subject of the image away from natural behavior to a snapshot of a reaction to the presence of a human. 

More troubling than images depicting eye contact, are those showing the sea otter actively moving to avoid something in the direction of the camera---first raising their head and body high in the water (an alert behavior known as periscoping), then swimming or diving away. While we often can’t be certain the photographer caused the disturbance, we can turn a discerning eye to suspicious images.

By keeping your distance and using telephoto lenses, you will be rewarded with photos of natural behavior.By keeping your distance and using telephoto lenses, you will be rewarded with photos of natural behavior.Evaluate photos of wildlife critically. Ask yourself, “Does this depict behavior caused by the presence and behavior of the photographer?” Do your part by sharing, posting or liking only photographs or videos that depict natural behavior and have no appearance of disturbance by the photographer. This is not meant to include witness photos of disturbance events to be used for reporting or educating about disturbance (e.g. video of a third-party kayaker approaching too closely). Has the photographer shared information about the circumstances of taking the photo? 

How can you tell a photo that’s sea otter savvy, from one that may have resulted from disturbance? Here are some tips:

1. Is the sea otter’s head, paws, and/or body raised high out of the water (periscoping)? If yes, then...

2. Does the sea otter have both eyes focused on the camera?

3. Is there evidence of movement away from the camera (e.g. does the otter have a wake)?

Practice identifying photos that are sea otter savvy by taking our quiz. Click START: