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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

What Does it Mean to be an Ethical Wildlife Photographer?

feature photographer jeff wendy bannerA mother sea otter and her nursing pup are left undisturbed for this portrait. Read Jeff and Wendy's story behind this image below.

By Jeff Torquemada and Wendy Sparks

There is nothing more thrilling than spending time observing and photographing sea otters. They are one of our favorite subjects to shoot and as professional wildlife photographers we have always prided ourselves as being ethical when capturing images of any wildlife subject.

We constantly research the various wildlife subjects we are interested in photographing, so we gain a better understanding of their routines and behaviors. We discovered the Sea Otter Savvy website while doing some in-depth reading on sea otters and were mortified when we realized we had unknowingly compromised the welfare of some of the otters we were photographing! We foolishly thought we were not disturbing the otters when they raised their heads to stare at us before diving under water. We also assumed photographing from our kayak was less threatening to the sea otters because we were low in the water and our vessel was quiet!  Well, after learning more about what defines a disturbance to a sea otter, we realized we had, on occasion, unintentionally disturbed them. In addition to learning how to recognize the behavioral signs of disturbance, we learned these disturbances can result in sea otters diving and swimming away, behaviors that carry an energetic cost to sea otters who may already be just meeting their daily energy demands. It also requires them to groom their fur again to maintain the precious air layer that keep them insulated from the cold ocean. Did you know it may take a sea otter that has been disturbed from rest as long as 15 minutes to groom and go back to sleep?  

We now understand preserving an animal’s energy and not disrupting their daily routine is of paramount importance. Those disruptions cause animals to waste precious energy, which they need for survival. Wildlife has a baseline (maintenance behavior) and if this baseline is disturbed it results in unnecessary energy loss. We all need to practice functional invisibility, which is really all about awareness, connection, empathy, and respect for wildlife. As photographers, you want to document natural behavior and not cause that behavior to be altered by your presence.  For example, if you notice a resting sea otter suddenly becomes very alert with eyes riveted on you it is time to move away from that animal.                                               

We believe the most important role a nature photographer plays is being a voice for all wildlife. We need to devote time to learn about the habits and behaviors of our wildlife subjects and recognize how to respectfully interact with them without disturbing their daily routines. We also can serve as role models for budding photographers and demonstrate ethical practices such as maintaining a safe distance from an animal.

We have pondered the question, “What does ethical wildlife photography actually mean?”  So, we decided to do some research and reviewed a variety of definitions.  We believe the statements below capture the essence of what we consider ethical wildlife photography.

photo ethics mom restA resting sea otter mother and her pup seeking refuge in a harbor. We were able to photograph them from the landing above their resting area, which allowed us not to disturb them. We shot this image using a tripod and a 500mm lens.Our favorite definitions of ethical wildlife photography

" At its most fundamental, ethical wildlife photography holds the welfare of the animal above any photographic capture. At its most expansive, it promotes increased consideration and compassion for wild animals through practice, education, conversation, and advocacy."   ~North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA)

"If you have an idea on how to capture an image and you’re asking yourself questions about whether or not it is ethical, then it most likely isn’t. Putting wildlife first is of the utmost importance. An image is not worth the disturbance, or even the life of an animal."  ~Jeff Hogan, Wildlife Videographer

"The first essential element in bird photography is a sincere respect for the birds and their environment. In any conflict of interest, the well-being of the birds and their habitats must come before the ambitions of the photographer."   ~Audubon's Guide to Ethical Bird Photography

Our philosophy

  • If capturing an image will compromise the welfare of an animal, it is not an ethical practice.
  • If your presence causes a change in their behavior you are negatively impacting the animal. For example, if while photographing an owl you continue pursuit as it flies away from you, you are causing that bird to use precious energy to avoid you.
  • Baiting wildlife to entice the animal to approach for a better shot is not an ethical practice and is illegal in many places. When you feed (bait) an animal you are altering an animal’s natural behavior, which could lead to its death.
  • Chasing animals is NEVER okay.
  • Wildlife parents with young should be treated with the utmost respect. They are already investing a big portion of their energy to raising the next generation.
  • Altering the environment to get a better shot of your subject also compromises the welfare of an animal (such a trimming branches to obtain a better shot).
  • Avoid crowding an animal. This is prevalent in National Parks, on safari in Africa, and with kayakers and paddle boarders who approach and encircle wildlife too closely.
  • Clearly identify images taken while visiting a zoological or game park.
  • If there are signs indicating an area is closed to protect wildlife, respect that message.
  • When we post images of wildlife, we do not list the specific location. Social media spreads location sightings at warp speed, which compromises the welfare of the animals.

A few things sea otter photographers can do to capture great images while preserving natural, undisturbed behaviors

  • Be aware of distance. Take the time to learn about the rules and regulations regarding how close you can approach animals in every area you are visiting and photographing. For example, in Yellowstone National Park it is posted you must be 100 yards or more from a wolf or bear, but only 25 yards from an elk or coyote. You can be fined if you violate these distance regulations. For sea otters, the distance recommendation is a minimum of 60ft (5 kayak lengths), and 100 feet is even safer.
  • Be aware of behavior. If the sea otter is alert and looking directly at you, it is a sign they are disturbed regardless of your distance. If a resting sea otter dives and swims away, it is a clear indication of disturbance.
  • Avoid posting photographs with direct eye contact. Even if it is a lucky shot and the sea otter just happened to glance your way, these images unfortunately encourage other photographers, who may not be shooting with a long lens, to do the same.
  • Include information about how you photo was taken. By including your distance from your subject and describing your camera type and lens you help to encourage other photographers to follow your lead.

We would like to share a few images that will assist you in recognizing what is considered a disturbance.

What not to do: attract attention to yourself

What not to do: attract attention to yourself

This image taken in 2015 was shot from our kayak with a 100-400mm lens extended to 300mm and approximately 40 feet from the otter. This image is not cropped and demonstrates we were way too close and clearly disturbing the sea otter.
What to do: feature natural behaviors

What to do: feature natural behaviors

We photographed this sea otter in the early evening while it feasted on crabs. We positioned ourselves on the jetty road and used a tripod and our 100-400mm lens (extended to 340mm) to capture this image.
What not to do: disturbing rest

What not to do: disturbing rest

Sea otters at rest are especially impacted by human disturbance.We shot this image from our kayak using a 100-400mm lens that was extended to 300mm. We were caught up in the “cuteness” of this resting sea otter, whose fur was dry and fluffy. We did not realize that as our kayak drifted a little bit closer we caused her to dive and move away from us. You can see the motion of her tail as she uses it to propel herself away from us.
What to do: avoid disturbance by shooting from shore

What to do: avoid disturbance by shooting from shore

There are a number of great places to observe and photograph sea otters from shore without disturbing them. We took this photo of a raft of females peacefully sleeping in a harbor from a public walkway. As long as observers are quiet and blend in with the crowd (e.g. don't climb down on rocks or docks at water level), they can often go unnoticed by harbor sea otters.
What not to do: harass mothers with pups

What not to do: harass mothers with pups

We dug a little deeper and found this image taken our 100-400mm lens at 130 mm in 2015. The entire incident was upsetting because a group of people were yelling at this mother otter and chasing her along the walkway behind the restaurant off of highway 1 near Elkhorn Slough. We were already on the deck photographing pelicans when this poor mom and pup came zipping by. Even if we didn't cause the disturbance, we would need to carefully caption this photo to distinguish it as a product of disturbance.
What to do: respect mothers with pups

What to do: respect mothers with pups

Here we captured a quiet moment between a sea otter mother and her nursing pup. This image was shot from our kayak with a 100-400mm lens extended to 300mm and approximately 60 feet from the otter. This image was tightly cropped. Clearly our presence did not interfere with this pup nursing and mom catching some much-needed rest.

Please enjoy spending time observing and photographing sea otters but be mindful if your presence is compromising their normal behavior. Sea otters are the stewards for the kelp forests and we should be the stewards for the sea otter.

Happy Shooting!

Note:  we have removed older images on our website and Instagram account that might encourage people to attempt to take photographs of sea otters at such close proximity.

Meet our guest bloggers, Jeff Torqumada and Wendy Sparks, Jeff and Wendy Photography

photo ethics biopic“Promoting respect and awareness for wildlife through the lens of a camera.”

Jeff and Wendy are passionate about preserving all things wild and through the medium of photography strive to capture images that tell a story and evoke emotion. Photography has allowed them to gain a more intimate perspective on wildlife while viewing them through the lens of a camera. They have spent over 40 years and thousands of hours observing and photographing animals-always waiting to capture that perfect light! All of the animals in their photographs are taken in their natural habitat; they do not bait nor risk compromising the welfare of an animal just to capture an image.

They use their photography as a voice for wildlife and conservation issues. They devote time educating people about the animals they photograph through their website, social media and photography classes. Wildlife photography inspires them to travel and dedicate time researching the subjects they want to shoot and the conservation issues they have a desire to support. Jeff’s degree is in Fine Arts, so painting and drawing are an ongoing passion. Wendy has a Master’s in Educational Leadership, but their passion for wildlife photography has been a unifying force.

They have volunteered at Lindsay Wildlife Experience since 1985 and also volunteer for the Least Tern Project.  Each year they donate a percentage of the proceeds from their annual wildlife calendar to Lindsay Wildlife Hospital and other non-profit organizations such as the River Otter Ecology Project. Their work can be seen at 4th Street Fine Art in Berkeley, California.

Jeff and Wendy want their images to promote an awareness and respect for all wildlife and provide people with an image that reminds them of the importance of connecting with nature on an emotional level. Follow them on Instagram or visit their website to see more of their wildlife photos.


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. 

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. 

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.