Sea otters, © Michael Peters

A New Otter Pup in Town!

Last week, a wild sea otter mother and her newborn pup in the tidal area near the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Central California captured everyone’s hearts! For the first time ever, the birth of a wild sea otter pup was caught on camera at the aquarium. Mom and pup have been photographed and filmed bonding over the past few days.

While the new wildlife celebrities call northern California home, the entire population of southern sea otters exists along the coast of central California, with the most southern portion of their range located near Gaviota State Beach. These otters are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act due to their small population and their sensitivity to changes in their habitat.

Sea otters are facing increasing threats to their habitat, which undeniably affects their recovery. They have to deal with a lack of viable food sources, habitat degradation, and poor coastal water quality from onshore runoff (meaning, pollution from humans), which causes disease. On top of all of this, southern sea otters face attacks from sharks. It’s believed that the sharks confuse them for their normal prey, such as seals, since sea otters are not part of their normal diet.

Sea Otters, ©Chip CarroonNow, you may be thinking that southern sea otters have the cards stacked against them, and you’d be right if it weren’t for one thing: Californians refuse to let them go extinct! That’s right – Californians love sea otters so much that they’ve been able to crowd fund sea otter recovery efforts. This is not only because sea otters are adorable (obviously!), but also because they provide cultural value to our coastal communities and support the overall health of the central coast’s nearshore marine ecosystems, especially the kelp forests and sea grass beds.

How are Californians able to help? The California income tax form includes the option to voluntarily contribute to a number of very important funds, including the California Sea Otter Fund. Since the fund first appeared on the form in 2007, it has raised over $2 million through voluntary contributions from Californians. 2015 was a particularly successful year for the fund, raising $324,059. The money raised goes to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Coastal Conservancy to fund actions like research into what is threatening sea otter population growth, public outreach and education, and investigations into any harassment or harm to sea otters. In fact, due to the generous contributions from Californians in the last nine years, the Department was able to fund a study that discovered that a substantial proportion of sea otter mortality has been caused by diseases, parasites and toxins.

If you live in California and would like to know how to contribute to the California Sea Otter Fund, learn more here.

Don’t live California? You can still help save sea otters by adopting one of these marvelous marine mammals. Not only will you be sharing your appreciation for this imperiled species, but you’ll also be helping to support Defenders’ work on their behalf.