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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

Sea Otter Society: The Single Moms' Club

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The Single Moms' Club: A pup a year deserves a cheer!

by Claire Mayer and Gena Bentall

It is no big secret that parenting is a full-time job. Imagine having one baby a year until the day you die! Such is the life of our devoted sea otter mothers. Not only do they give birth (on average) to one pup each year, but they will have and rear pups into their senior years! Along with mothering multiple pups throughout their lifetimes, sea otter moms do it single-handedly. They are truly “single mothers”, with no child support or help with pup-rearing from dad. After courtship and mating, males are out of the picture and mom is the sole provider of six months of constant pup care. No nannies, babysitters, or grandparents will share the load with these moms.

Mother sea otter will give birth at sea and then be a 24/7 caregiver for her new offspring as he or she transforms, over the next 6-8 months, from a helpless bundle of fur into a young sea otter ready to make it alone in the ocean. Her body will make rich milk to nurse her growing pup, and when the pup is just a few weeks old, she will share her prey, teaching her pup what’s good to eat and how to eat it. As any parent can relate, these months of dependency can be physically taxing, and sea otter moms will be pushed to their survival limits by the time their pup becomes independent. Every year her reproductive cycle replays ─ estrus, pregnancy, birth, pup rearing, weaning, estrus ─ until her death. She will give her all to launch successful, independent sea otters into the world.

moms kayaksKayakers approaching too close to sea otter moms with pups can cost them energy they can't afford to lose! Give them space! Just like many in human society, an individual’s status as a parent may not be obvious at a glance.  The sea otter you spot swimming by your kayak or sleeping deeply in a kelp bed could well be in the Single Moms' Club. She could be caring for a dependent pup or pregnant with her next pup (it’s hard to see her baby bump). She could also be in estrus (the scientific term for “heat”) and contending with persistent male suitors while she’s trying to find the food she needs to stay alive.

Just as we respect the demands of the all mothers within our own society, keeping our distance allows these sea otter moms to perform their important job of bringing new sea otters into the world. Next time you see a wild sea otter, think of the mothers! Rather than approaching that single mom for a selfie we suggest appreciating all that she is and does from afar. Be a hero to the next sea otter you meet, and respect their well-earned nap!

When do sea otter pups try solid food?

When do sea otter pups try solid food?

Sea otter moms start offering solid food to their pups at just a few weeks of age. Pups first learn about foraging from their moms--what critters to eat, how to find them, and how to handle spines, hard shells, and pinchers. By the time her pup is ready to become independnet, she will be handing over as much as 1/3 of her prey to her growing pup!
How long will a female sea otter continue to have pups?

How long will a female sea otter continue to have pups?

Sea otter females do not experience reproductive senescence and will have pups every year throughout their 15-20 year lifespan.
How long do sea otters nurse their pups?

How long do sea otters nurse their pups?

Mother sea otter will nurse her pup right up until the day they are weaned, usually around 6 month of age! It takes a lot of energy to produce this rich milk.

Thanks to Joe Tomoleoni (Eco Exposure Photography), Nicole LaRoche, and Sea Otter Savvy volunteer Joan Tisdale for contributing photographs!

Sea Otters Societies: They are a lot Like Us!

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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.  

sea otter society older mom cropAged female sea otters may be the human equivalent of 80 years old and still rearing pupsFor 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. 

Get Savvy at our Sea Otter Awareness Week Viewing Stations


SOAW outreach volunteerVolunteer shares about sea otters at Jetty Road outreach station in Moss LandinThroughout Sea Otter Awareness Week 2019 (September 22-28) you can meet volunteers from SeaLife Stewards, Sea Otter Savvy, California State Parks, California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History to learn about sea otters, experience wild sea otters from the best viewing locations in California. Volunteers will be ready to help you be expert otter spotters with binoculars and spottng scope, answer your sea otter questions, and share how you can help protect sea otters and join the Sea Otter Savvy team! Click on the Sea Otter Awareness Week icons on the map below to find the station nearest you. Each location icon has a photo of the site and hours when volunteers will be present. 

Browse the map for Sea Otter Awareness Week events happening along the Central California coast! Learn more about Sea Otter Awareness Week at https://defenders.org/sea-otter-awareness-week



Sea Otter Awareness Week Quiz! 

How sea otter savvy are you?

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter throughout the week of September 22-28 for daily posts to increase your sea otter awareness and ace our SOAW quiz! 

  • Print out quiz (available here)
  • Answer each question–our posts throughout the week will help you 
  • Print completed quiz and mail to address below, OR
  • Take a legible photo and email as an attachement
  • Return entries by 5:00 pm PST, October 11, 2019
  • Winning entry will be drawn randomly from entries with 7 correct answers
  • Winner will receive a Sea Otter Savvy t-shirt of their size and color choice!

mail entries to:

Sea Otter Savvy

1961 Main St, #199

Watsonville, CA 95076

or email:



Coastal Wildlife Guardians: Stronger Together

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If we are to use our tools in the service of fitting in on Earth, our basic relationship to nature--even the story we tell ourselves about who we are in the universe--has to change.                                                                                                                                                                                                                               -Janine M. Benyus

On the 5th of November 2018, wreathed by an enthralling view of the fog-shrouded Monterey Bay, a group of people gathered at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with the common goal of protecting the wildlife of the symposium audienceAttendees of the 2018 Symposium fill the room at the Monterey Bay AquariumCalifornia coast and beyond. The participants at the 4th Annual Central California Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium came to hear presentations from 19 different speakers describing wildlife disturbance issues and ideas for solutions. They came to participate in problem-solving groups to brainstorm solutions to real-life human-wildlife conflict scenarios.  They came to meet others from government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local businesses to find common ground, common goals and ways to work together to foster awareness and stewardship.

Presenters brought news from up and down the California coast and as far afield as Australia: We learned about the dangers to nesting snowy plovers posed by the activities of human beach goers. Speakers shared their challenges for balancing the needs of humans and wildlife at popular wildlife viewing places like Pt. Reyes National Seashore and Pillar Point Harbor. We heard about tips for flying drones responsibly around wildlife, the road from notion to on-the-ocean for the SeaLife Stewards, collaboration to foster Seabird SAFE pilots, and bringing the message of wildlife stewardship to schools. A productive group discussion tackled the sometimes-controversial minimum safe viewing distance for sea otters. We were given a behind the scenes look at the development of the engaging Sometimes a Long-Distance Relationship is the BEST Relationship campaign created by the National Park Service in collaboration with Colorado State University. The California Academy of Sciences shared how citizens science is helping bring awareness to the fragile life in tidepools All who attended left with knowledge buckets full and idea baskets overflowing.

selfie cat elk funnyMeme from the National Park Service "Long-distance relationship" campaignBuilding on a seabird-focused Wildlife Disturbance Symposium organized by Seabird Protection Network in 2013, Sea Otter Savvy has partnered with the Seabird Protection Network and California State Parks to organize this wildlife disturbance symposium since 2015. Our goal from the start
has been focused on maximizing the effectiveness of diverse efforts to mitigate human-caused disturbance to coastal wildlife by fostering agreement upon common strategies and messaging, creating a forum for the sharing of new ideas, and supporting collaboration.  After a full day or talks and group activities, attendees were invigorated and inspired to return home with new solutions and connections. With human population steadily on the rise, our wildlife need champions more than ever. In this fight, we are stronger together.


 Thank-you to all the heroes who work everyday to promote stewardship. Here are some of the participants working toward peaceful coexistence between humans and wildlife in the 2018 Central California Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium: 

Seabird Protection Network
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Sealife Stewards
California State Parks
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories
Friends of the Sea Otter
California Department of Fish & Wildlife
California State Coastal Conservancy
Fast Raft
Point Blue Conservation Science
San Mateo County Parks
Save the Whales
US Fish & Wildlife Service
Monterey Bay Aquarium
MPA Collaborative Network
National Park Service
Humboldt State University
California Academy of Sciences
Deakin University
Camp Keep
Monterey Bay Kayaks
The Marine Mammal Center
Sea Otter Savvy