Sea otters are a species with a story of survival. These marine mammals were very nearly wiped out by the fur trade in the 1800’s.
The current California population, about 2,000 individuals, descended from a small group of about fifty otters that survived the fur trade and lived in Big Sur. Locals and researchers discovered the group in 1915 but kept them a secret until 1938, when the public discovered the otters after the opening of Highway 1.
The Southern Sea Otter is a unique and entertaining creature, one of the few on this earth that uses tools. When out on the slough, bring some binoculars and take a moment to watch an otter while it feeds. Otters use tools to pry shellfish loose from crevices and also use them to break open the hard shells of their prey.
Individual otters tend to have very specific preferences in the type of tools that they use, some prefer rocks, some driftwood, and a few have used soda bottles. Otters also have favorite foods, some will seek out clams, others like sea stars and others relish sea urchins. Otters tuck their tools and captured prey in ”purses“, loose pouches of skin under each foreleg.
Otters also sometimes steal food from each other. Adult males are most commonly the culprits, as some will even go to the extreme of employing ”hostage behavior“. In this case, a male will sneak up and grab a pup while its mother is diving for food. He will then hold the pup for ransom until the female has given him her food.