2016 – 9 687 Sea Otters

“687 sea otters rafted up together off Hoh Head!” Now THAT caught my attention! I realize no one in their right mind would pilot their boat into that pretty little cove north of the Hoh Estuary and spend the night –but this seemed like a story just waiting to tell. Sea otters are currently endangered and are our largest otter, two to three times the size of river otters. Some males can be upwards of 100 lbs. You’ll rarely see them in the Salish Sea east of Pillar Point because they need kelp beds for shelter and the associated marine life to consume – urchins, clams, crabs and fish. Urchins and clams, you wonder? Sea otters have learned to use small rocks as tools. Floating on their backs in the kelp and using a flat stomach into a table, they bang away with the rock until dinner appears.

687 sea otters is a big deal because they were once on the brink of extinction and completely gone from our area. Thanks to fur that has around one million hairs per square inch (the densest on Earth), it seems everyone once just had to have a sea otter hat, so we did a number on hundreds of thousands of Pacific Northwest sea otters. The last one in Washington state was killed in 1911. Then in 1969, 59 otters were transplanted from Alaska and the slow process of reintroduction began. I’ve seen them in many places along the outer coast, but never more than one or two at one time. They tend to eat at first light, then gang up in the kelp to hang out together, even holding each other’s paws to keep together as they snooze. So, 687! That’s a big deal in the face of Global Climate Change, shifting food sources, declining salmon runs and all the rest of the problems facing wildlife today.

Looking to see a sea otter up close? The Seattle Aquarium has an entire family. Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com.

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