In fall of 2015, Friends of the Sea Otter collaborated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to establish the Sea Otter Savvy Program. The goal of the Sea Otter Savvy program is to reduce sea otter disturbance by inspiring responsible viewing of wild sea otters. This program engages and educates the wildlife-viewing public, either directly or indirectly through operators of marine recreation and ecotourism businesses.
Together we can create a “sea otter savvy” community promoting responsible wildlife viewing, awareness of the effect our behavior can have on sea otters and other wildlife, and a safer, healthier coastal environment for all of us, otter and human alike.
What is Disturbance:
Don’t let their cute and cuddly exterior fool you! Sea otters live an incredibly delicate and vulnerable existence. Sea otters have a high demand for energy and spend a large portion of their time resting to conserve energy and foraging to get energy. Sea otters must eat as much as 25 percent of their body weight each day to stay healthy and warm. Sea otter moms with young pups must work twice as hard to survive. When viewers get too close to an otter, forcing the otter to wake up, become alert, and/or swim away, that sea otter must work extra hard to recover that wasted energy. Disturbance, no matter how severe, can have detrimental effects on sea otters, especially moms and pups.
The Sea Otter Savvy program recognizes that most disturbance to sea otters is unintentional, motivated not by the intent to do harm but by lack of awareness. Essential to preventing disturbance before it occurs is an understanding of the unique vulnerability of sea otters and the importance of a healthy sea otter population to our coastal ecosystem. With outreach and education, we hope to increase awareness of the importance of protecting sea otters as part of our coastal community, and inspire everyone sharing the coastal environment with sea otters to adopt responsible viewing guidelines and share them with others.
There are simple guidelines marine recreationists can follow to avoid disturbing sea otters. Practice these yourself, and encourage others to do the same!
Do remain alert.
Changes in behavior mean you’re too close.
Do give them space.
Maintain at least 5 kayak or SUP lengths from otters.
Do pass parallel.
Avoid direct approaches which can threaten otters.
Do wait your turn.
Be patient to avoid crowding or encircling otters.
Avoiding direct interactions between sea otters, humans and pets
Habituated sea otters may try to interact with humans by climbing on kayaks. In scenarios like this, both humans and sea otters are at risk, and every attempt should be made to prevent physical interaction
- Recognize that incidents involving direct contact between a sea otter and you or your pet are very dangerous.
- If a sea otter approaches you while you are paddling a small craft or on shore, move away to avoid direct contact.
- If a sea otter attempts to climb on your watercraft, use your paddle or other object to block access and/or push the sea otter off of your craft.
- Do not attempt to touch or pet the sea otter or pause to take pictures.
- Do not allow your dog to chase, harass, or interact with a sea otter. A sea otter is capable of harming and even killing your pet.
What else can you do to help?
- Practice behavior that is respectful to sea otters and all wildlife when sharing their space.
- Encourage others to think about the needs and well‐being of sea otters when they are viewing them—be a sea otter savvy role model!
- Be proficient at handling and maneuvering your watercraft, whatever type or size of craft you are operating. First time kayaking? Ask for instruction on how to turn and stop skillfully before launching. It’s safer for you and it’s safer for wildlife!
Most people love sea otters and do not wish them harm. Armed with a little information, we can share the coastal environment respectfully and peacefully with sea otters! Understanding the needs of sea otters is most important to help prevent disturbance, but don’t forget, sea otters are protected from harassment by two federal laws, state law and a number of local laws and regulations. Harassment and disturbance of them, even when unintentional, violates the law!
For additional information regarding the Sea Otter Savvy Program, go to http://www.seaottersavvy.org/.