The Sea Otter Savvy Program: Respect the Nap!

The Sea Otter Savvy Program: Respect the Nap!

Becoming Sea Otter Savvy

by Friends of the Sea Otter’s guest writer, Gena Bentall, Program Coordinator, Sea Otter Savvy,

For thirteen years as a sea otter biologist, I spent most of the hours of most of my days watching sea otters in the wild. With my telescope on a sandy coastal bluff, cypress covered rocky point, or bustling wharf, I was a distant, secret observer of the lives of sea otters as they went about the business of living: finding food, attending to their insulating fur, raising their pups, and sleeping—at times in the embrace of a frond of kelp and other times seeming so vulnerable adrift on an open sea. But attached to the privilege of insight into the private lives of such a charismatic marine mammal, was a toll I had not anticipated. I must watch, helpless at a distance, the relentless disruption to their natural (and necessary) behaviors by the activities of humans. Together with my sea otter biologist colleagues, I have witnessed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of incidents where our recreational activities—kayaking, stand-up-paddling, beachcombing, scuba diving—interrupt the rest, grooming, and foraging of sea otters. I have seen pups frantic as they are separated from their mothers by a well-intentioned family on kayaks who likely would have been horrified to know the trauma they caused. I have seen one raft disturbed time after time in a single day with just enough time to groom their wetted fur and settle into the kelp before the next group of kayaks comes through and flushes them again. I’ve been asked, “If the disturbance is so bad, why don’t they just go somewhere else?”

Genas last day 1024x768 The Sea Otter Savvy Program: Respect the Nap!

Sea otters, with their high metabolisms and inability to sufficiently store energy (they do not have the blubber layer seals and whales have), are very dependent on the availability of the marine invertebrate prey upon which they feed for survival day to day. Mothers rearing pups find it especially risky to move to an unfamiliar place, away from human disturbance, to find enough food for themselves and a growing pup. They must adapt, or risk their own life and that of their pup. As a bystander to this, knowing the potential cost to the otters about whom I felt so passionately, I wondered what to do to help.  While every person engaging in marine activities should understand the federal and state laws protecting sea otters and other marine life, it is impractical to expect law enforcement to curtail the widespread disturbance that occurs daily in some areas.  Shouting at errant kayakers from shore seemed weak and ineffective. It left my voice hoarse, and my disposition unsatisfied that I had solved the larger problem: that, as a community, we need a better, stronger ethic of respecting our wildlife neighbors.

In spring of 2014, at the biennial Southern Sea Otter Research Update Meeting, at Long Marine Laboratories in Santa Cruz, some of the most influential sea otter agency and organization representatives convened a special working group to address the issue of disturbance to sea otters by human marine recreation activities. It was here that the idea of a program dedicated to creating awareness of the unique vulnerability of sea otters to disturbance and fostering an ethic of good stewardship, was conceived. As a group we agreed that most disturbance is the result of lack of awareness rather than intent to cause harassment. Most people paddling up to a raft of wild sea otters have little understanding of their behavior, no recognition that their actions may be the cause of disturbance, and no awareness they are neither the first, nor last, kayak these otters will encounter that day. Through the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Friends of the Sea Otter, and, the concept of this new, outreach-based program, Sea Otter Savvy, was developed. Sea Otter Savvy received our first funding in fall of 2015 and launched shortly thereafter. I am proud and excited, having been appointed Program Coordinator, to have an opportunity to translate what I have learned as a sea otter biologist into effective strategies for creating a safe and more peaceful coexistence where the favorite places of otters and humans overlap.

scan stills 040 1024x384 The Sea Otter Savvy Program: Respect the Nap!

In our first months we have activated a Citizen Science program with volunteers in two central coast counties (Monterey and San Luis Obispo) in the field collecting data on sea otter activity as it relates to many potential sources of disturbance. In September of 2015, Sea Otter Savvy convened and hosted an unprecedented summit of the best and brightest folks on the coast who are working to reduce disturbance to a variety of coastal wildlife. Representatives from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Audubon Society, LiMPETS, Seabird Protection Network, MPA Collaborative Group, and many others joined together at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories to identify disturbance issues, come up with solutions, and foster collaboration.  Collaboration springing from this summit continues, and Sea Otter Savvy is leading teams planning Wildlife Awareness Workshops in Morro Bay and Monterey. Our first deployment of outreach materials is imminent, and we are poised to launch our Be Sea Otter Savvy kayak decal, which will provide guidelines for responsible viewing to those renting kayaks along the central coast. Look for our decals soon on the fleet of Monterey Bay Kayaks in Monterey and Moss Landing! We are excited to implement many more ideas and strategies in the coming months!

If you are lucky enough to live along the Central California coast, you have chosen a home where your neighbors are not only human, but a rich assortment of coastal and marine wildlife. Here, you share space with sea otters who, with their powerful role in maintaining the health of our near shore communities, are seashore superheroes. They are esteemed neighbors, and often the best we can do to be neighborly is give them the space they need to do the things they need to do to survive. We hope you will join Sea Otter Savvy in promoting the respectful sharing of space with our wild neighbors: know, follow, and share guidelines for safe viewing of sea otters and all kinds of wildlife, model responsible behavior when you are on the water, and foster an ethic of respect and empathy towards all in our community, human and non-human.  The next time you see a peacefully resting sea otter, consider how you would like to be treated: Respect the nap!

Learn more about the Sea Otter Savvy program at!


Help Sea Otters and be a Part of History

Help Sea Otters and be a Part of History

An Evening at Wild Bird

Friends of the Sea Otter is excited to announce the date for “An Evening at Wild Bird”

On September 26, 2015, the event will take place at the former home of Friends of the Sea Otter founder, the late Margaret Owings.  Wild Bird, as Margaret called the home overlooking the magnificent Big Sur Coast, will be the setting to launch a new era in sea otter conservation.  Wild Bird is historic because of the groundbreaking conservation issues Margaret Owings developed and initiated while living in this home.  It is here, at this very location, where Margaret Owings and many of her friends and colleagues would deliberate and find solutions for not only sea otter issues, but many other critical conservation initiatives.

Friends of the Sea Otter, will host an evening of hors d’oeuvres and cocktails overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean, followed by a catered dinner and dessert, which will then lead into discussions with various noted friends and colleagues of Margaret Owings and Friends of the Sea Otter co-founder, Dr. Jim Mattison.  The list of invited guests includes former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and noted sea otter expert, Dr. Tim Tinker. “An Evening at Wild Bird” will host speakers discussing the mission of Friends of the Sea Otter and its advocacy efforts relating to the emerging studies surrounding this keystone species and its ecosystem, and new strategies to recover this species. Gayle Crowell 2 Help Sea Otters and be a Part of History

Please make your plans now to be a part of a historic evening of discussion and promise in Friends of the Sea Otter’s nearly 50-year mission of protecting sea otters and their habitat.  Click here for more information and how you can sign up to attend.

Not Again! When Will We Learn?

Not Again! When Will We Learn?

On May 19th, a tragic  event unfolded along the Santa Barbara coastline that serves as a serious reminder to the world – oil spills and wildlife don’t mix.  Needless to say, oil spills’ impacts reach farther than just killing wildlife.  They close beaches, put livelihoods on hold, minimize ocean recreation, and they simply scar the land, ocean and its inhabitants, impacting people who come to enjoy these special areas.

Friends of the Sea Otter knows all too well the deadly consequences oil spills have upon sea otters due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill that occurred just slightly more than a quarter decade ago in 1989.  Sea otters die of hypothermia or ingesting the oil, which then gets into their internal organs and causes damage.  These similar impacts happen to other animals.

The deadly toll in this recent oil spill includes marine birds, marine mammals, other marine vertebrates, and marine invertebrates.  It is so disheartening to see the images flooding the news, social media, other media sites of oiled animals!

As of Thursday, June 4, 173 birds have been collected – 58 live, 115 dead – and 100 mammals – 42 live, 58 dead, and more than 14,000 gallons of oily water mixture has been collected.

There have been many things that have come up as to why this happened and why the initial response was inadequate.  These are all important things to address.  What is more important is the constant goal of preventing it from happening in the first place.  One area of emphasis is the need to move away from oil exploration and development in sensitive habitats like this.  Problems are always going to happen with these methods of extracting oil.  We need to focus on alternative energy and put our foot down in saying enough is enough.  We should have learned from the Gulf Oil Spill from five years ago.  We had ample time to learn from that tragic event, and we haven’t. And, until we really say “No More!”, we will continue to get news reports about these tragic, yet preventable events. Let’s learn this time and not repeat historic mistakes like these.

The Legacy of Olive the Oiled Sea Otter

The Legacy of Olive the Oiled Sea Otter
Olive pup IMG 5580dfg 1024x683 The Legacy of Olive the Oiled Sea Otter

Joe Tomoleoni/USGS

The sea otter world lost a real ambassador to the species when Olive the Oiled Otter was found dead at the end of March 2015 due to a shark bite.

Olive is one of the success stories in rehabilitating an oiled sea otter.  In February 2009, she was found stranded at Sunset State Beach, in Santa Cruz County, California, having been oiled by a thick, tarry substance coming from a natural seep off the California coast.  Olive was about a year old at the time she was found.  Olive was given her name because olive oil was used to try and loosen up the heavy oil that she was covered in.  A dedicated team of state agencies and organizations were instrumental in Olive’s recovery, using a new protocol in washing oiled animals.  She was released back into the wild and was continually monitored, especially, of late, by California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist, Colleen Young.  Olive not only survived and recovered, but went on to successfully give birth to and wean 3 confirmed pups.

Olive’s story took on great interest for the public, through a Facebook page ( ) and numerous media stories about her.

Friends of the Sea Otter is saddened by the news to have lost Olive, and we will never forget what she meant to sea otter recovery by demonstrating that we can successfully rehabilitate an oiled sea otter.







Time to Help Sea Otters Again when Filing your Taxes in California

Time to Help Sea Otters Again when Filing your Taxes in California

Time to Help Sea Otters Again when Filing your Taxes in California

It’s that time of the year…Tax Season. While sea otters don’t pay taxes, we can help them when we pay ours.  Since 2007, sea otters in California have benefited from nearly $2.4 million in taxpayer contributions that go towards efforts to protect and recover sea otters in California. This funding is critical because it is currently a critical  funding source for sea otter research, education and conservation efforts in California.

Each year the California Franchise Tax Board sets a minimum amount needed for each check off to meet in order for the Fund to appear on tax forms in the following year. This year the California Sea Otter Fund needs to reach $283,775.

Please help sea otters in California during this tax season. They are dependent on any contribution you can make.  Just seek out line 410 on your California Tax income form and give as little as $1.

Tax Time to Help Sea Otters Again when Filing your Taxes in California

You can find out more information on the California Sea Otter Fund and how the money has been used in the past by clicking here.  Spread the word to your California tax-paying friends that they can help sea otters too.  Thanks!



FSO’s 2015 Hero Series: Don Baur

FSO’s 2015 Hero Series: Don Baur

FSO’s 2015 Hero Series

A Behind the Scenes Look at the Individuals Dedicated to the Cause

Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO) is the only organization in the world dedicated to the protection of sea otters on a global scale.  We do this through effective advocacy, litigation, public education, and the development of strong alliances and partnerships.  We are committed to protecting this threatened species wherever sea otters are found worldwide.  Why?  Because the health of the nearshore coastal ecosystem is dependent upon their survival.  The sea otter is a keystone species, meaning what happens to the sea otter, happens to the ecosystem. It is our duty to protect this marine mammal.  But who exactly is behind the scenes fighting for this keystone species?  Meet Friends of the Sea Otter’s feature Hero of 2015: Don Baur.

 Don Baur FSOs 2015 Hero Series: Don Baur

Ranked as one of  “America’s Leading Environmental Lawyers” and a partner at the law firm of Perkins Coie, LLP, Don Baur is an integral part of Friends of the Sea Otter’s success.  Close friends with FSO founder, Margaret Owings, Mr. Baur has been advocating for sea otters for over 30 years.  One of his most recent and celebrated successes representing FSO is the removal of the 20+ year No Otter Zone that prohibited the free movement of sea otters throughout their natural habitat in Southern California.  Don helped spearhead the removal of this impediment to sea otter recovery, a critical decision that will help the threatened species expand its range over time.

It’s no coincidence that Don headlines the FSO Hero Series.  Without his guidance, passionate approach, and legal expertise, FSO would not have garnered the triumphant successes that it has had over the past three decades.  Don’s input and dedication to protecting the natural environment are instrumental in the success of the organization.  His expertise includes extensive experience in all relevant federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and coastal/ocean and public land laws.  Previously an attorney for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and General Counsel of the Marine Mammal Commission, Don’s efforts on ocean conservation include his service on the Board of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, his position as a professor of Ocean Law at the Vermont Law School for the last two decades, and as the lead editor and author of legal treatises on both endangered species and ocean law.

Thanks in part to the expertise, leadership, and experience of Don Baur, ocean enthusiasts and sea otter lovers alike can be confident that no rock will be left unturned to ensure protection for these threatened animals.  Don Baur states,  “The fact that the sea otter species has been able to fight off extinction is due, in no small measure, to the extraordinarily effective conservation program mounted by FSO.  This species still remains at great risk, however, and FSO and its supporters have major challenges ahead.  The recovery of this species will depend on sustained advocacy for the foreseeable future.”  Where there are legal challenges regarding the protection of sea otters, you can be sure that FSO will be there to confront them.