A Talk on the Wild Side.
Recently, an online video went viral showing a southern sea otter jumping into a kayak in coastal California. Most of us are thrilled at the prospect of being close to a beautiful wild animal, and videos like these may seem adorable and harmless. But did you know they can actually hurt sea otters? That’s because they encourage other people to seek out similar interactions. While aww-inspiring for sea otter lovers, too-close encounters like this could have unintended and tragic consequences for both sea otters and people.
Sea otters interact in the mostly male "bachelor" raft in coastal California. Photo by Lilian Carswell/USFWS
Most of the time, sea otters will try to ignore or avoid people, but in areas where they’ve become used to high levels of human activity, they will sometimes approach boats or kayaks. Every time a sea otter is allowed to climb onto a boat or kayak, the behavior is reinforced, meaning it’s even more likely to happen again. A sea otter that loses its wildness will quickly become bold, potentially aggressive and possibly dangerous. Sea otters are related to wolverines, so it’s no surprise that they have a powerful bite, which they use to crack open clams and other invertebrates that they collect from the slough bottoms. A sea otter that has lost its natural fear of humans may have to be removed from the wild. This outcome is tragic, but the good news is that it’s preventable.
To avoid disturbing resting sea otters, kayakers should stay at least five kayak-lengths away, which is about 20 meters or 60 feet, remain parallel to the animal(s) instead of pointing directly toward them, and keep moving slowly but steadily past them. Photo by Lilian Carswell/USFWS
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Sea Otter Savvy ask that you follow these simple tips to keep yourself safe and sea otters wild:
Signs at Moss Landing Harbor in California encourage paddlers, kayakers and boaters to keep a safe distance from southern sea otters with this catchy limerick. Photo courtesy of Sea Otter Savvy
Check out our latest feature story, “Serenity in the slough: Sea otters lure the world to tiny coastal town,” which highlights how boaters, kayakers, paddleboarders and others play a vital role in giving sea otters the space they need to live and raise their young.
Learn more about Sea Otter Savvy, an educational program offering an organized and long-term approach to address human-caused disturbance to these remarkably charismatic and unique animals that once teetered on the edge of extinction. Sea Otter Savvy’s advisory panel includes staff from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Monterey Bay Aquarium. Complete viewing guidelines can be found here.
Let’s enjoy the recovery of sea otters – from a safe distance!