Saturday, March 6, 2010
River Vs. Sea Otters
A few weeks ago I saw our local Sea Otter in Mill Bay. He or she is around all year long. No, they don't migrate with the weather. These guys wrap themselves up on the kelp during storms, to be kept from being washed out to sea from their 5 square mile "home". Despite their absence of blubber (unlike other sea mammals like whales, seals and sea lions), these guys are made for 30 degree water. Sea Otters have 1 - 1.5 million hairs per inch! That's what makes their fur so warm and valuable during the mid and late 1800s. It caused the Russians to almost drive them to extinction.
Now a days only the natives can harvest their pelts. And if you buy a Sea Otter hat from them (for about $3-400), you'll probably be getting the sides of Sea Otter and the top of River Otter. Run your finger through them: you'll be able to feel the difference. Look at the last picture of my You Tube and you'll see how the water runs off the Sea Otter's pelt (sorry about including an advertisement...but it shows this characteristic quite well ! )
You can hunt River Otters. They have their pelts for sale at the local sporting goods store for only $ 150. River Otters have little back feet, just like their front feet. Sea Otters have these huge, wide, webbed back feet that look like diving fins. That's what lets them swim so effortlessly. Their back webbed fins are brought to the water's surface when it’s warm to catch the heat of the sun. They say River and Sea Otters are so close genetically that they could mate. But I can't see a Sea Otter going on land with those back flippers and I can't imagine a River Otter swimming out to sea with his tiny feet
Compare the River Otter's back feet on the photo above to the Sea Otter's back "flippers" on my video below. He is doing what he does so well 24/7 : Eating !!!
I said the Sea Otter was almost driven to extinction, but fishermen have other thoughts about them. In 1911 they say there were just 2,000 left alive in Alaska's waters. In the 1960s Alaska Fish and Wildlife Department reintroduced them back into our waters. Within 10 years they claim that the numbers rose to 160,000! These guys eat 24/7; 1/4 their body weight per day of sea shells and soft sea life! And the ones I see seem to weigh about 60-70 pounds each (the size of a regular Labrador retriever). But the books say they weigh up to 90 or 100 pounds. Anyway, that's allot of food they eat. So, the fishermen claim that is the reason why the sea cucumber, sea urchins, geoduck fisheries, and secondarily the Dungeness crab are disappearing....not because they have been over-fished, but over eaten by that worthless rodent ! (Actually ,it’s more like a weasel)
Nevertheless, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has declared nearly 6,000 square miles of Alaskan waters as critical habitat for sea otters. They claim 90% of the world's population live here. And their numbers have decreased from 160,000 in the 1970's to only 40,000 currently. We know it’s not that sea otters are being over hunted (severe penalties prevent that). Is it one of our other huge mammals causing their decline? To a 1,000 pound Sea Lion or 9,000 pound Killer Whale, a 70 pound Otter must look like a nice mid-morning snack!
Anyway, I am happy to report that my local Sea Otter was alive a few weeks ago. But, in the meanwhile, 3 Orcas that arrived in our waters. Guess I better go check on my friend "Otty" later this week.