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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

By Jeff Torquemada and Wendy Sparks

What an exhilarating experience to spend two days with people who have a common passion ─ protecting coastal wildlife and their habitat. This statement, “ It is important to pair knowledge with emotional appeal” encapsulates so much of what was shared during the symposium and it served as the springboard for participants to generate creative ideas to promote and provide awareness and education to the public regarding best practices while visiting coastal wild places.

Participants in one of the 6th CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance workshop groupsParticipants in one of the 6th CA Coastal Wildlife Disturbance workshop groups

It has become quite evident COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the number of people spending more time outdoors. They are “over-loving” national parks, state parks and coastal marine sanctuaries. In his presentation, State Parks Ranger Robb Mullins shared a number of dramatic examples demonstrating an increase in the number of poaching incidents of plant life and mollusks. The challenge for law enforcement is when to use the “spirit of the law” rather than the “letter of the law”.

Tidepool wildlife is being harassed and some people are doing dangerous and disrespectful stunts involving wildlife just to be a social media sensation. There is a need to “one up” one another on social media, which drives people to push beyond ethical limits to post a photo. This is also one of the causes of “bad behavior” in our parks, sanctuaries and reserves.

Can we use social media as a positive tool? There are Instagram accounts with huge followings such as the kayak fishing for beginner’s account. Messages regarding ethical practices could be posted on these types of sites and reach a larger and more diverse population. Getting a celebrity involved in awareness messages via social media would also reach far more people.

The ongoing problem of getting too close to marine mammals continues to be a challenge, but the collaborative efforts of local kayak and paddleboard businesses working in conjunction with Sea Otter Savvy has had a very favorable impact ─ gotta love those important baby steps!

shhh morro bay 500Simple signage in Morro Bay, CAIt was agreed, too many signs may cause sensory overload. However, visuals like the “Respect the Nap” plaque with the image of the sleeping sea otter makes a powerful statement with very few words. We actually have witnessed people viewing sea otters and then discussing that very powerful message. In Alaska we learned, there are signs educating boaters to give whales space. The simple statements, “Give Whales Bubble Room!” and “Don’t Burst My Bubble” educates with a touch of humor.

Two of our favorite presentations were Dr. Megan McKenna’s presentation on integrating sensory ecology into conservation. We know the animals returned to the Yosemite Valley during COVID-19  due the absence of humans and all noise we create!  Stanford University’s J P Spaventa’s presentation on testing sea otter responses to UAV’s was truly cutting-edge technology and would make data gathering more efficient and less stressful on wildlife.

Perhaps the most powerful discussion was recognizing that scolding people, who were doing something unethical, only has a short-term impact and most likely will not change that individual’s behavior. The two of us are guilty of admonishing a couple who was attempting to photograph a bobcat with an iPhone, while constantly yelling “Here, kitty kitty” every time the poor bobcat was ready to pounce and catch his next meal. Yes, we did go a bit “COVID Crazy” and the people did leave, but we should have walked over and explained to them they were interfering with an animal’s efforts to survive-it was a teachable moment and we blew it! We must remind ourselves to be ambassadors.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should serve as our guiding foundation as we work together to effectively bring about change. We want to plant seeds of awareness that touch upon people’s core beliefs or educate them in such a way our messages become their core beliefs.  Humor is a great tool to share an important message ─ the Respect the Tidepools from song is a perfect example of using humor, great visuals and a catchy tune to teach children how to safely and respectfully explore tidepools. These creative approaches to educate children about marine sanctuary awareness should be an integral part of the elementary school science curriculum. Children often teach adults valuable lessons about ethical behavior.

The quote below reflects the combined power and creative energy of the attendees at the Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium. We are honored to have been part of this think tank.

“Never doubt that of a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

                                                      -Margaret Mead

Jeff & Wendy


From the editor:

Videos of all the 6th California Coastal Wildlife Disturbance Symposium presentations can be viewed on the Sea Otter Savvy YouTube Channel.

Check out the resources pinned to the virtual bulletin board "Gallery of Ideas"! You can find absracts of presentations, review the agenda, and see videos, oureach materials, research articles and more, shared by symposium panelists and attendees. 

Read about past symposia:

4th Annual in 2018

5th Annual in 2019

Jeff and Wendy at workAbout the authors:

Jeff Torquemada and Wendy Sparks, aka Jeff and Wendy Photogrpahy, are passionate about preserving all things wild and through the medium of photography and 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.

Learn more about them by reading their blog on the ethics of photographing sea otters.