Monterey Bay Whale Watch - Sea Otters

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--- Sea Otters of Monterey Bay ---

Sea otters are a common sight along the Monterey coast as they inhabit the nearshore kelp forests. The otters, which were once nearly hunted to extinction, now number just over 2,000 individuals. Sea otters are easily observed on all Monterey Bay Whale Watch trips as they rest within the kelp or feed near the kelp on seastars, crabs, urchins, and abalone. After the otters capture a prey item, they bring it to the surface, place it on their belly while floating on their back, and crack it open with their powerful teeth.

Thumbnail of sea otter
Sea Otter
Resting in Kelp

Otters have very dense fur, with up to a million hairs per square inch. This keeps them warm along with the insulating air bubbles they blow into their fur. Therefore, otters could easily be threatened by any type of oil spill which could foul their fur. Besides spending a portion of the day grooming, otters divide their time into feeding and resting. Otters usually rest by rolling within the surface kelp until their bodies are wrapped in it. The kelp is anchored to the rocky bottom and by staying with the kelp, the otters will not drift to sea while sleeping.

During mating or courting bouts, a male and female otter will pair up and remain together for several days. During mating, the male grabs onto the female's nose to stabilize himself. The result leaves female otters with red wounds or scars on their noses. This is really the only way to distinguish males from females.

Pups can be born year-round with a peak during the winter. Newborn pups appear as a small ball of fur and are too buoyant to dive with their mother, so they wait on the surface and emanate a loud scream until their mother relocates them after a feeding dive.

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Photograph by Nancy Black.