Ready or Not Here They Come

Ready or Not Here They Come

Ready or Not Here They Come: Sea Otters making their way back to SoCal

The news just keeps getting better. After ending the No-Otter Zone this past January, there is even more exciting news: a sea otter spotted in Southern California.

Some readers might be aware of the No-Otter Zone, which established a border where sea otters could not travel south of Point Conception near Santa Barbara. The sea otters, from 1987 to 1990, were relocated to San Nicolas Island, in the Channel Islands of Southern California, in hopes of avoiding harm in case of an oil spill or some other catastrophic event. At the time of relocating sea otters to San Nicolas Island a No-Otter Zone was designated for the benefit of fishermen, due to concerns that sea otters interfered with their livelihoods. If there was any sight of this furry creature in Southern California, it was to be promptly relocated to the north. Luckily, this January marked the official end to this otter-free zone by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

After decades of limiting their range expansion southward, sea otters may now roam as far south as they please. It was evident to many that the sea otters’ would not stop traveling south, and there was no use to keep exhausting efforts to stop this natural behavior. In addition, the movement of sea otters to San Nicolas Island, also called translocation, over that 3-year period caused harm to some sea otters; some could not even survive the move. The sea otter population was also not thriving under such range restriction; after years of stagnant growth and declines in the population of this endangered species, it was time to take action.

As early as May 2013, a sea otter was spotted in Orange County. Scott Seaton snapped a photo of a sea otter floating along the Peter’s Landing Marina in Huntington Harbor.  It’s exciting to see sea otters being spotted in southern California again. Joy surges through many of us knowing that the hard work of several organizations, including Friends of the Sea Otter, is making an impact.

Witnessing these furry faces reestablish themselves in the habitats of their sea otter ancestors, encourages faith that the population will grow. It is possible that because of the otter-free zone being lifted, more sea otters will be seen taking advantage of their former stomping grounds and ultimately grow in numbers and we will see a positive growth trend. Currently, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the current 3-year average, based from last year (new 3-year average should be released in late July 2013) is about 2,800 sea otters along the California coast ( It is down from previous years.  What we need is a sustained increase in population size and growth trends.  This, ideally, can begin the process of crossing-off their name from the endangered species list. Observing a growing population like this would be a thrilling success for many sea otter enthusiasts.

All in all, keep your eyes peeled for these charming swimmers. If you’re lucky you might spot one this summer!


Sea Otter Spotting in SoCal

Sea Otter Spotting in SoCal

When thinking of summer in Southern California, thoughts often drift to beaches, sunsets, BBQs, board-shorts and bikinis. But Sea Otters?

…Not really

A rare sighting occurred a few years ago in San Diego, but this is not common by any means. Some might say you have a better chance of seeing a snowflake drop in downtown LA than spotting one of these charismatic marine mammals floating in the warm Pacific waters these days.

But that is just what happened at Peter’s Landing Marina in Huntington Harbor in Orange County, CA this week. Residents and ocean enthusiasts alike reported seeing a sea otter swimming through the harbor (photo by Scott Seaton).

Is there something going on with the ocean? Is the end of the “No Otter Zone” allowing more sea otters to travel into Southern California waters?

Well, its still too early to tell and as this is such a rare occurrence, we will be keeping a close watch to see if there are more consistent spottings! Stay tuned…



Sea Otters vs. Fisheries: The Battle in Southeast Alaska

Sea Otters vs. Fisheries: The Battle in Southeast Alaska

We see this same issue pop up time and time again in other geographical areas with sea otters. This issue isn’t limited to sea otters, but to marine mammals and terrestrial ones alike. The issue seems simple from the outside, but is extremely complex when analyzed: the need for animals to eat to survive versus the commercial, recreational, (and in Alaska’s case) subsistence activities of humans.

So what’s going on in Alaska exactly? Well, the basic survival needs of this charismatic marine mammal are taking a back seat to the misconstrued “exclusive right” to harvest various “resources” by fisheries.

Sea otters feed on over 60 different invertebrate animals, some of which are the target of commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries.  In Southeast Alaska, sea otters prey primarily on geoduck clams and other clams, sea urchins, Dungeness crab, sea cucumber, scallops, snails, and shrimp.  Some fishermen in Southeast Alaska blame sea otters for the demise of these fisheries and are crying out for increased harvest of sea otters to resolve these fisheries conflicts.

Essentially, the proposed solution is fisheries management through “predator control”, something that Friends of the Sea Otter is vehemently opposed to.  Fishing groups, some natives and the Alaska delegate are putting extreme pressure on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “manage” sea otters, another word for culling the population.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently in the process of clarifying the definition of “significantly altered”, which basically determines what can be made from a sea otter pelt; and this process has the potential to open up the floodgates to increased hunting pressure on sea otters in Southeast Alaska and elsewhere in Alaska.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is tasked to conserve the population and use the best possible population status information to determine how best to manage the population towards recovery.  The data is still in the process of being analyzed and it is incumbent upon U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take a conservative approach and not make a management decision that will put more pressure on the population of sea otters.

Sea otters are viewed by some in the fishing community as voracious predators mowing down everything.  The side that is missing from all of this is the beneficial role that sea otters play as keystone species, having a profound effect on the kelp forest ecosystem creating a balance to that system and increasing biodiversity when sea otters are present.  Sea otters also provide ecotourism benefits to visitors to Alaska looking for the experience of viewing wildlife in their natural settings.  And, more recently, sea otters have been touted by researchers as having a dramatic impact on climate change by promoting healthy kelp forests, which, in turn, sequester carbon.

On Thursday, February 21st, a scientific forum in Juneau, Alaska will feature guest speakers: Dr. Jim Estes, Dr. Tim Tinker, Jim Bodkin, Dr. Ginny Eckert, Verena Gill of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and George Esslinger of U.S. Geological Survey.  These experts will be presenting the science behind the population status of sea otters in Southeast Alaska.  Friends of the Sea Otters’ Jim Curland will be attending this.  An article appeared last week in the Juneau Empire co-authored by one of the forum’s speakers, Dr. Ginny Eckert, talking about sea otters in Southeast Alaska.


Expanded Board, Staff Ready to Confront New Obstacles to Sea Otter Conservation

Expanded Board, Staff Ready to Confront New Obstacles to Sea Otter Conservation

We are excited to announce that we have recently expanded our Board of Directors upon the recently added staff. This is all in anticipation of new challenges to improve the important conservation efforts to save sea otters throughout their range from Alaska to Southern California.

Founded in 1968 by renowned conservationist Margaret Owings, Friends of the Sea Otter has been at the forefront of every action necessary to bring the California sea otter back from the brink of extinction, from the initial listing of the species in 1977 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), to the closure of areas to fishing activities that kill otters by entanglement, to the preparation of a new recovery plan and research on diseases causing high mortality. Currently we are working with a coalition of environmental groups to bring an end to the zonal management program that would prevent sea otters from expanding into their former range in Southern California. In Alaska, we have been active in achieving the listing of the Southwest Alaska stock under the ESA, the preparation of a recovery plan, and the fight against the expanded hunt of sea otters by Alaska Natives for handicraft items.

 Expanded Board, Staff Ready to Confront New Obstacles to Sea Otter Conservation

Friends of the Sea Otter, the longest established sea otter conservation organization in the world, was founded by Margaret Owings (pictured above) in 1968. We have recently revamped our board and staff to tackle the pressing issues that sea otters will face.

At the moment, the decision whether to allow for sea otter population growth in California necessary for recovery under the ESA is due this year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Fishing organizations are threatening litigation against such a decision. At the same time, an amendment sponsored by Congressman Elton Gallegly is threatening to impede FWS in reaching the decision to end zonal management while giving fishermen a blank check to kill sea otters incidental to their fishing operations.

With all of these threats calling for aggressive environmental activism, FSO has expanded its team to confront every challenge.

New to the Board are: Tim Eichenberg, formerly with the California Coastal Commission, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Environmental Defense Center, and more recently San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission; Joyce Capuano who was with Smith Barney, a Registered Investment Advisory firm, and then started her own company, Artemis Investment Management LLC; Sarah Beyrich, who worked many years with Artemis Investment Management LLC and now serves as Director on the board of a 100 year-old manufacturing company in West Virginia; Teresa Clemmer who is presently serving as Of Counsel with the law firm of Bessenyey & Van Tuyn LLC in Anchorage, Alaska and previously was a litigating attorney with the Environmental Law Center Clinic at the Vermont Law School with extensive experience in environmental and natural resources law, including endangered species protection, federal land management, clean air and water, and many other subject areas; Cindy Tucey who currently teaches undergraduate courses in American Politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Dr. James Estes, a professor in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz and one of the world’s leading sea otter biologists; and Teiko Saito who was with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service where she was the Chief in the Office of Management Authority working on permit issues, among other things, and most recently as the Acting Assistant Director for the Office of International Affairs. These seven new members join existing Board members Chris Miller who has been involved with Friends of the Sea Otter for over 10 years and is an active volunteer at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; Jennifer Covert, who has volunteered for many animal focused conservation organizations and has been with Friends and the Sea Otter for four years; Pam Ferris-Olson, a freelance writer, who wrote a thesis on the conservation of the southern sea otter and who wrote papers with the founder of FSO, Margaret Owings; and Jud Vandevere who has written multiple scientific articles on sea otters and is an honorary board member.

We have also added two new staff members. Jim Curland rejoins FSO as its new Advocacy Program Director, after having spent nearly 11 years as Marine Program Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. Jim previously worked for FSO from 1998 to 2000. Frank Reynolds, , has been hired as Program Manager. He has had extensive experience in a number of ocean organizations within the Monterey Bay. Jim and Frank join Jennifer Covert, who besides her board duties is the long-time Senior Program Manager, as the front-line troops in FSO’s battle to protect this beloved species. The FSO staff will be assisted in this mission by the group’s attorneys, Don Baur of Perkins Coie in Washington, D.C., and Don Mooney in Davis, California.

Senior Program Manager and Board member, Jennifer Covert, says “FSO is delighted and invigorated by the addition of such an outstanding group of advocates from all relevant disciplines to our Board. They will guide our dedicated staff and outside legal team in taking whatever actions are necessary to protect this imperiled species and its habitat.”

Jim Curland states, “It is great to be back at FSO, as we enter a new stage in the sea otter conservation campaign that is as important as any battle that has been fought before. Protecting this species will help restore the marine environment because, as a keystone species that preys on herbivores, sea otters assist in the growth of kelp forests, which in turn promote biological diversity and the economic gains that come with healthy oceans.”

Friends of the Sea Otter Announces Winter Poetry Contest

Friends of the Sea Otter Announces Winter Poetry Contest

Friends of the Sea Otter welcomes anyone and everyone of all ages to join in on our Sea Otter Poetry Contest!

The winner of the contest will be featured in our Annual Winter Newsletter, The Raft, which is enjoyed by over 2,000 of our members across the world. Runner-ups’ poems will be featured on our Facebook page for all of our followers to enjoy and share!

The rules are simple. Here they are:

Subject: Anything and everything positive about sea otters!

Length of Poem: Anywhere from 5 to 175 words. Get creative! Haikus, ballads, sonnets, limmericks, etc. are all welcome!

Submitting and Judging: Please send all poems to, where they will be judged by Friends of the Sea Otter staff and the winner picked upon by unanimous decision. 

Deadline: All poems should be submitted no later than 5:00 PM PST on November 22, 2012.

Prize: The winner of the Poetry Contest will be announced on November 26, 2012. Their poem will be featured in Friends of the Sea Otter’s Annual Winter Newsletter and will be apart of our organization’s rich 40-year history. Runner-ups will be featured on our Facebook page in the following weeks after poems are submitted!

Best of luck! Let’s see how creative we can be in describing the beloved sea otter!

10th Annual Sea Otter Awareness Week a True Success

10th Annual Sea Otter Awareness Week a True Success

In a year in which sea otter conservation and awareness is more important than ever, organizations, agencies, zoos, aquariums, natural history museums, educators, and others from around the world rallied together to promote the preservation of this charismatic and beloved marine mammal during Sea Otter Awareness Week 2012. From Portugal to Minnesota, France to Santa Barbara…and almost everywhere in between, the amount of effort put forth into the 10th annual week and in increasing people’s knowledge regarding the status of sea otters was unprecedented.

 10th Annual Sea Otter Awareness Week a True Success

The Shedd Aquarium made sure that this sea otter was fully aware that an entire week is dedicated to increasing the marine mammal’s conservation. The aquarium, along with over thirty other participants  made for the most successful Sea Otter Awareness Week yet. (Photo ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez)

But why have an entire week dedicated to otters?

Simple. And it’s no secret.

Sea otter populations are not close to where they should be. Annual deaths are at an all-time high in California. And, don’t forget, the entire coast of Southern California is still completely off limits to sea otters.

But its not all bad news…

Reasons to increase sea otter awareness do not all stem from negative statistics. Recent studies have shown that sea otters have incredible positive impacts on their habitats, such as increasing kelp bed coverage which results in increases of carbon sequestration. Who would have thought climate change mitigation and otters would ever share the same sentence, but it’s true, and people need to know.

So for these reasons, and of course the obvious ones, there is an entire week dedicated to increasing both public awareness and conservation efforts of the sea otter.

This year over 30 different zoos, aquariums, scientists, filmmakers, institutes and organizations alike held talks, open discussions, movies, and events to promote the conservation of sea otters. At one of the more glamorous events of the week, the popular film, Otter 501, showed to a packed house of over 700 people in the Sunset Center of Carmel, CA. Overall the week was a complete success and would not have been so without the incredible support from all the different participants who contributed.

Every week is Sea Otter Awareness Week at Friends of the Sea Otter, but last week was made that much more special by the hard work and dedication from a number of organizations. Thank you to all who participated, and we look forward to another successful week next year! Please check for a list of  the partners and the events that took  place during the week.