By Claire Mayer and Gena Bentall
Many of us who are fortunate enough to reside along California’s beautiful coastline can often be found admiring the familiar furry face of the southern sea otter. We love watching them float effortlessly on their backs, allowing the ocean’s great swells to pass beneath with ease. From a pier above, we watch curiously as they crunch away on something tasty, wondering what it could be. We see that little cluster (properly termed “raft”) sleeping soundly in a bed of giant kelp. We feel luckiest of all when a mother sea otter paddles into view with a fluffy pup riding on board her belly. We cannot contain our silent (or not so silent), “Awww!”, and imagine the life of the sea otter as a continuous frolic in calm seas with seafood always on the menu. For many this is as far as sea otter observation goes and still it is often enough to leave us with love for these charismatic creatures. However, for scientists who spend their lives studying these marine mammals, the respect and awareness runs deeper. Underneath the whiskers, behind the pretty faces, there is a fascinating and complex society at work just beyond the waves.
For most of us, the idea of living life as a sea otter is too foreign to even imagine. Our terrestrial nature limits our understanding of a life aquatic. However, sea otter biologists have learned over years of research that the behaviors of sea otters are in some cases more relatable to humans than one might think. Just picture that teenage boy being bullied by a group of older boys for hanging out in their spot or sitting at their lunch table. Imagine a single mother working three jobs to feed her child with no child support from dad. Can you imagine an 85-year-old grandmother raising a baby on her own? These situations are everyday realities for sea otters and are not such foreign concepts for us humans. Even in this ocean world of kelp beds and great white sharks at the door, we can find some common ground and better understand their struggle. Our new blog series, Sea Otter Society, will focus on different aspects of the everyday lives of sea otters and provoke some recognition of aspects of our own struggle for survival. Our hope is that by understanding how the southern sea otter population or “society” functions, we will gain more understanding, empathy, and awareness.
Sneak peek at future Sea Otter Society topics:
"The Single Mom's Club" - An intimate look into the lives of sea otter mothers and what caring for their pups in the wild involves.
"Boys in the Hood" - A look at what it is like to be a male otter in the wild competing with other males for territories and mates.
"The Breakfast Club" - Food, glorious food! The caloric and foraging demands of the sea otter.
"Grumpy Old Men" - What happens to those old man sea otters and how they survive losing their territories.
"The Old Lady Who Lived in the Shoe" - A glimpse into the lives of old sea otter mothers and how they never stop caring for pups.
About guest blogger Claire Mayer: Claire was born and raised in Monterey, California. She is a former animal care volunteer with the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. She currently works as a Veterinary Assistant in Carmel, California.