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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

Rhyme and Design: Limerick Contest 2020

One of the winning limericks from 2018 in use at the Moss Landing boat launchOne of the winning limericks from 2018 in use at the Moss Landing boat launch

Calling all rhymsters and doodlers! It's time for a fresh batch of limericks in Moss Landing!  Are you clever with a rhyme and meter? Do you want to spread awareness (with a giggle) about the sea otters of Moss Landing? Sea Otter Savvy is hosting our second contest for the best limerick to feature guidelines for savvy paddling in Moss Landing Harbor and Elkhorn Slough. This year, we will be adding a second element to the contest: contestents may submit a limerick or a cartoon (or both)! With the support of the Moss Landing Harbor District and the Community Active Wildlife Stewards,  we will be freshening up  our launch-point info-graphics reminding paddlers to observe the following guidelines for keeping both sea otters and humans safe:

  • Always stay at least 5 kayak lengths from sea otters
  • Disturbing sea otters is harmful and violates federal laws
  • Please leave the closed beach opposite the boat launch people-free
  • Avoid sea otters that approach you. They may bite!

Winning limericks and cartoons will best embody the above guidelines. To facilitate creativity and insure clarity, the guidelines are included as written above at the bottom of the final sign. While risqué limericks may entertain the judges, they will not be considered for the contest. A panel of Sea Otter Savvy advisors and partners will review and choose three winners. Each winning limerick will be featured on three signs to be placed at key watercraft access points in the North Harbor. Entries must be received by midnight Earth Day, April 18, 2020 to be considered. Get out and rhyme!

Submission Instructions:

Cartoons should be simple, neat, and limited to four colors. Submit your entry through Sea Otter Savvy’s Facebook Messenger as a jpeg, or via email to with “Sea Otter Savvy Limerick Contest” in the subject line.

Limericks should be submitted through Sea Otter Savvy’s Facebook Messenger as text, or via email to with “Sea Otter Savvy Limerick Contest” in the subject line. A limerick is a poetic form composed of one stanza with five lines and a rhyme scheme of “AABBA” that usually is humorous. Here’s one of our winning entries from the last contest as an example:

Don’t paddle too close while we’re searchin’

For a crab or a tasty sea urchin.

Don’t land on our beach,

and stay well out of reach,

Or you’ll frighten us into submergin’

By Laura Crowley


Note: Sea Otter Savvy reserves the right to refuse contest participation to anyone submitting inappropriate or offensive limericks or artwork. In the event none of the cartoon entries are deemed suitable for use on these public signs, we reserve the right to use alternative artwork. 

On the Hook: Sea Otters and Fishing Gear Entanglement

entanglement 5Sea otter entangled with lost or discarded fishing line. Photo courtesy CDFW

By Lindsey Popken

Imagine you are kayaking in the Elkhorn Slough, trying to spot a raft of wild sea otters. You maintain a safe and respectable viewing distance, utilizing binoculars to watch a lone sea otter groom himself and forage for some tasty snacks. Through your binocular, you notice something off about the otter’s behavior. There seems to be an irregular pattern along his fur, with some streaks of pink and red poking through. He is moving slowly, almost lethargically, unlike the usually energetic sea otters you see diving for food when you kayak. Using your binoculars, you can see what looks like string on the otter’s body. You then realize that there is fishing line wrapped tightly around the otter, causing the bleeding and distressing behavior.

An entangling situation

entanglement fisher TRFishing from shore in a popular activity near Morro RockWhile fishing gear entanglement is a much less frequent threat to sea otters than bites from sharks or disease, lost commercial and recreational fishing gear presents risk of entanglement or entrapment that can result in significant harm or death. The lifestyles of marine wildlife (in particular, seabirds and marine mammals) expose them to these materials, with a chance of becoming entangled in broken fishing lines or left-behind hooks. When a sea otter becomes entangled in fishing gear, they are at risk of starvation, infection, physical trauma, and exhaustion. A sea otter diving and foraging for food or wrapping up in kelp may come into contact with fishing line, hooks, or lures that were lost by fishers, particularly those fishing from shore. Occurrences seem to be most common near piers and jetties, which offer both fishing opportunities for people and foraging habitat for sea otters. Mike Harris, a Senior Environmental Scientist at California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Sea Otter Savvy advisor, reports that he is seeing more frequent incidences of entanglement as sea otters expand their range and become dependent on urbanized habitats like harbors.

entanglement in netSea otter rescued by CDFW and Monterey Bay Aquarium staff after becoming entangled with fishing line in Morro BayHarris describes a similar encounter to our imagined one above: Harris was notified by a number of Morro Bay wildlife watchers of a sea otter who had become entangled in fishing line. The line was wrapped so tightly, it was cutting into her skin. After days of capture attempts to free the otter her from the fishing line, they were able to successfully capture the otter and bring her to The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) triage facility in Morro Bay.  At TMMC, the veterinarian provided care to stabilize the otter in preparation for transport to the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) for treatment and rehabilitation. After months of care, the otter was successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild, a success for Harris, TMMC, and MBA. Harris has encountered many scenarios where wild sea otters had been entangled in fishing line, and unfortunately, not all stories end as positively.

While traumatic for individuals, injury due to entanglement with lost fishing line is relatively infrequent. Potentially more impactful to sea otters are negative interactions with commercial fishing gear, such as traps (finfish, crab, lobster), and gill nets.

Gill nets are aptly named; they catch fish by their gills. Gill nets work by ensnaring fish with panels of netting suspended from a line held at the surface with regularly spaced floats. They snare indiscriminately, and often trap or ensnare bycatch ─ species that were not intended to be caught.  State and federal resource agencies monitored incidental take in the gill net fishery for many years, and regulations have been implemented that limit or ban the use of gill nets in much of the sea otter’s territory. However, sea otters are not bound to these geographic areas and, as their range expands, they may swim to areas that do not have regulations in effect.

Invertebrates such as crab and lobster are tasty and popular seafood staples for humans. Our love of shelled seafood is a trait we have in common with sea otters. However, our hunt for such seafood has resulted in the use of traps designed to catch lobsters, crabs, finfish, and other shelled animals. Sea otters, also looking for a meal, have been known to swim into a trap in pursuit of one of their favorite prey items. These traps are designed to allow entry and prevent escape, and an unlucky sea otter can become locked inside the trap, ultimately drowning. Officials note that it is difficult to estimate just how many sea otters have died due to trap-related incidences, as consistent observer coverage of such incidences is logistically difficult, and agencies rely, for the most part, on self-reporting by the fishers. 

entanglement 4Sea otters can sometimes successfully remove line or hooks with their expert grooming skillsEntanglement-related fatalities and injuries are a concern for agencies protecting sea otters, who include it among the numerous challenges to their survival and recovery. In addition to their fundamental challenge of keeping warm in the cold ocean environment, risk of oil spills, shark bite mortalities, changes in prey availability, and pollution put additional pressure on the survival of one of the ocean’s smallest marine mammals. Harris’ story of one sea otter’s successful rehabilitation and release is a happy one that shines a bit of light on an unfortunate situation, but this story is indicative of a larger issue related to our relationship with the ocean. As an growing human population continues to deepen reliance on the ocean for the many resources and services it provides, the chance of negative direct and indirect interactions between humans and the oceans inhabitants, including sea otters, also increases.

Harris emphasized that entanglement is not done intentionally and that commercial and recreational fishers do not want to lose gear. California has widely eliminated the use of gill nets within sea otter habitat, reducing the risk to sea otters and other marine mammals who would have fatal encounters with gill nets. Therefore, we know it is possible to reduce our fishing-related impacts on the ocean’s inhabitants, but creative solutions are needed to accomplish this goal.

What can we do to prevent sea otter entanglement?

  • entanglement fishing stationIncrease awareness in fishing communities. Spread the word to recreational fishers that that they can save a life by retrieving all trace of their fishing gear.
  • Pick up discarded fishing line above and below the surface. If you see discarded fishing gear of any kind, whether while beach walking, sightseeing on the waterfront, or SCUBA diving, recognize that you can save a life by picking it up and disposing of it safely. Some harbors and piers have bins for discarding line.
  • Join an ocean clean up event, whether above or below the surface (see opportunities below)!
  • Support innovation in commercial fishing gear with your wallet, by buying seafood from fishers that strive to reduce bycatch of and adopt the most “sea otter safe” fishing practices.
  • Support and encourage research. In our interview, Harris noted that in order to conserve marine animals like the sea otter, we need to fully understand all of the anthropogenic impacts on the animal’s survival that can be mitigated. We need to better understand these impacts so we can make changes that has a better chance of bringing entanglement-related sea otter mortality to zero.

The power of community stewardship

entanglement recovered gear targetrock07sep2016Fishing debris picked up by divers in one dive at Target Rock in Morro Bay. Photo by Mike HarrisAs the Earth’s human population continues to grow, so will the number of people visiting the coast. It has become essential that we adopt sustainable ways to enjoy the ocean while respecting its inhabitants, so we, and our children, can hope to see higher incidences of unfortunate and preventable negative human-wildlife interactions. This article explored how entanglement can be harmful to the sea otter population, but this can be mitigated or avoided by easy and effective actions by beachgoers and fishermen. Picking up and throwing away a broken piece of fishing line is a simple yet highly effective way to help – it may even save a sea otter’s life!

On the other hand, the issue of entanglement, gill nets, and trap-related incidences speaks to a wider issue that needs to be addressed by input from the public (think voting!) and our public officials who have the capacity to implement policy-level change regarding fishing practices that affect marine mammals such as sea otters. Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

Collaborative and sustainable conservation can better ensure that when kayakers go out to watch a raft of wild sea otters, maintaining a respectful and safe distance, the only stories brought back with them are about the natural and charismatic behaviors that Californian’s and tourists adore.

Learn more about ocean cleanup events: diverPhoto by Thomas Grønfeldt Senger from

Lindsey PopkenAbout our guest writer:

Lindsey Popken is a recent UC Davis graduate who is pursuing her masters in Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington, Seattle. While she grew up in the Sacramento region, Lindsey became interested in sea otters while in college and conducted an honors thesis on sea otter narratives in social media. Lindsey hopes to continue to merge social science and sea otter conservation in her masters thesis.




Sea Otter Society: The Breakfast (Lunch, and Dinner) Club

sea otter society food

sea otter society food quarter lb 350

By Claire Mayer

What we eat turns to heat! Everyone has that one friend who lives to eat and not the other way around. The next meal is planned before the current is consumed. And while this is a choice for most humans it is not a choice for our friend the sea otter. Just to stay alive in these cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, sea otters must eat 25% of their body weight per day. If an 80 lb. sea otter ate only Quarter Pounders, he’d have to eat 80 of them every day! Can you imagine chowing down every day on three hearty breakfasts, four lunches, two dinners and then a midnight snack or two? While it may sound glorious to some it would surely require a lot of meal prep!  For sea otters the work is in the foraging ─ the finding and processing of prey.

Being the only marine mammal lacking a thick layer of blubber, sea otters rely on their high metabolism and dense fur to stay warm in a cold ocean. Because the calories they eat are converted to heat this helps maintain their high body temperature (roughly 100 degrees Fahrenheit). To generate the number of calories necessary to fuel the sea otter’s “heat engine” equates to one thing…eating, eating and more eating.

Sea otter biting into the anti-predator defense system of an urchinOuch! A sea otter biting into the anti-predator defense system of an urchin. Photo by Joan TisdaleWhat most don’t know is that finding so much food means very hard work for the sea otter. Not only is it extremely time consuming (in some parts of their range they may spend half of a 24-hour day foraging), but their various foods (aka prey items), have evolved an array of defenses to AVOID being eaten! For prey it pays to be difficult to locate and tough to open. Just what does the average sea otter go through to get a good day’s meal? Try dives to the bottom while holding their breath and kicking against the buoyancy of their fur’s air layer to dig for clams and worms, or patiently prying abalone and clumps of mussels from their rocks along the shore. An abalone meal may require 10 or more dives (and a rock tool) to pry loose. A sea otter can often be seen wrestling a prickly urchin or an angry crab aboard its chest while a stealthy gull stands by waiting for scraps. A sea otter specializing in small marine snails must stuff her underarm pockets full and pulverize each snail on a rock anvil. The struggle is real for the sea otter when it comes to finding food, but find food they must ─ just a few days without sufficient food can mean starvation. Not only does foraging take great effort, but their meal can pinch back (no thanks!) All this eating not only feeds the sea otter but keeps numbers of herbivores like urchins under control helping the kelp forest to thrive.

So the next time you see a sea otter devouring a tasty morsel be happy for the successful forage attempt. Maybe take a moment to appreciate all the hard work, time and energy that went into that dive, pry or dig in the sand. Be mindful too of the endless food choices within our arms' reach at the grocery store as compared to the limited options available to a sea otter foraging for their survivial or that of their offspring. Just as we don’t like our own precious mealtimes being interrupted let those sea otters dine in peace. As they finish that meal, they will already be thinking about the next! 

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. 

Read about the science of sea otter foraging:

Individual variation in prey selection by sea otters, 2003.pdf

Food limitation leads to behavioral diversification, 2008.pdf

Wildlife Disturbance Symposium 2019: A Growing Movement

The 5th Annual CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium was held at the William Penn Mott Jr. Training Center and Asilomar State Beach and Conference GroundsThe 5th Annual CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium was held at the William Penn Mott Jr. Training Center and Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds A Growing Movement for Wildlife

On November 4, 2019, nestled in a grove of Monterey pines overlooking Asilomar State Beach, a record crowd convened with the common goal of protecting the wildlife of the California coast and beyond. Nearly eighty participants at the 5th Annual California Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium (our highest attendance yet) came to hear presentations from fifteen speakers describing wildlife disturbance issues and ideas for solutions. They came from as far away as Washington D.C. to share their knowledge and experience. 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.

From Trinidad to La Jolla

symposium claire nasrClaire Nasr presents the results of her master's thesis study predicting disturbance risk During this day-long event, presenters brought news from the coastline of California — from the northern town of Trinidad south to the upscale community of La Jolla. Even wildlife at the more remote places along our coast are not immune to the impacts of human disturbance. The Trinidad Coastal Land Trust shared about their community science program organized to monitor disturbance along their rugged coast, and attendees were given a summary by a recent graduate of Humboldt State University of her statistical assessment of disturbance risk to select marine species. Speakers from Southern California described the decades-long battle for beach access at the notorious Children’s Pool in La Jolla and a code of ethics for professional wildlife photographers. We heard about the challenge of balancing the needs of humans and elephant seals at the beaches of Pt. Reyes National Seashore and San Simeon, and the clamor of human-generated sound navigated by the marine species of Monterey Bay. 

What do symposium sarah codde talkSarah Codde from Pt. Reyes National Seashore showcases new infographics to reduce human conflict with elephant sealsMonterey Bay stakeholders see as the most pressing conservation challenge when cohabiting with urban sea otters How do Marine Protected Areas protect seabirds from disturbance? Symposium attendees learned the answers to these questions and more! Updates on the progress of ongoing wildlife disturbance-related projects are always on the agenda, like the Respect Wildlife Campaign (rooted in our first symposium), the certification program, Community Active Wildlife Stewards (CAWS), and a new Monterey Bay Whale Watching collaborative, so attendees can follow along as these projects grow and evolve.

Each year, participants contribute outreach materials to our “Outreach Gallery”, a forum for sharing what has been done, and getting feedback on new ideas. Our collection is growing and this year we encircled our room with colorful and creative handouts, stickers, banners, and flyers. The gallery also supplemented spoken presentations with several posters on wildlife disturbance related topics.

symposium panel otterThe wildlife law enforcement panel takes questions from attendees as our sea otter napsIn an unprecedented special session, we gathered a panel of experts in wildlife law enforcement to review and discuss the potential and limitations of state and federal law enforcement to curb wildlife disturbance. The audience was able to hear from state and federal wildlife law enforcement staff and courtroom prosecutors from the US Department of Justice Wildlife Crimes Section and the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and participate in a Q & A session with a panel of six experts. With considerable debate and confusion about the scope and effectiveness of law enforcement as a tool to reduce human disturbance to wildlife, this session was especially eye-opening and informative. Look for a future blog with a more detailed summary this special program.

Gaining Momentum

Building 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 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. It is clear from the growing interest and participation in this symposium that the momentum of this movement to reduce human-caused wildlife disturbance is growing. Let’s keep the wave of awareness moving forward and work together to create a more peaceful world for our wild neighbors.

Alicia Amerson (Projects for Wildlife Podcast, The Photologists), long time symposium attendee and member of the Respect Wildlife Campaign team, shares her list of ten takeaway messages from the day:

1. Let folks know if signage is not working in your area - then you can collaborate to make new signs to help reduce disturbance.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
2. Report wildlife infractions to NOAA, USFWS, and CalTIP.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
3. Take video of infractions, get their license plate or boat number, and send in.⠀Evidence is the only road to prosecuting violations! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
4. Don't tell the person who is committing the infraction that you are calling them in. Let the professionals deal with them.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
5. The "Sometimes the best relationship is a long-distance relationship" signage campaign by National Parks Service is effective.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
6. Partner and grow collaborations to protect wildlife from human disturbance in your local area.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
symposium glass full7. Get community science programs up and running, or join an existing program in your area.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
8. When asked what you are studying or observing - tell the person "Oh, I am just counting the number of times the animal bites a person who gets to close"⠀(a tactic used by one of the presenters!)⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
9. Know who you are in the project — are you the person who looks at the issue with the glass half full or half empty!⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
10. It takes all of us and our unique skills to protect wildlife!⠀⠀

symposium group selfieAttendees of the 2019 CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium gather for a group photo

Attendees represented these agencies and organizations:

NOAA, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, National Park Service, CA State Parks, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Dept. of Justice, Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, Bureau of Land Management, Seabird Protection Network, Point Blue Conservation Science, Trinidad Coastal Land Trust, Sea Otter Savvy,  MPA Collaborative Network, Humboldt State University, San Diego State University, University of Bristol, Bay Net, Friends of the Elephant Seal, The Marine Mammal Center, Save the Whales, Fast Raft Whale,, Projects for Wildlife Podcast, and others.