In 2009, a lone sea otter appeared on the Oregon Coast, where they’d been extinct since 1906. It floated twenty yards from the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay for a few days, and then vanished.
Unfortunately for marine biologists, tourists, and several species of kelp, the otter wasn’t an advance scout for a larger population seeking new real estate. Single otters often venture far from their home range and then return. The visitor was probably from the Northern California population.
Sea otters are adorable. They float on their backs cracking crabs and sea urchins to the delight of wildlife watchers. But these furballs are also agents of massive change. By their presence or absence, otters send ecological shock waves through coastal ecosystems. As sea otters rebound from nearly being hunted into extinction, these changes are gathering steam…
Neil Schulman is a paddler, conservationist and regular contributor to Adventure Kayak magazine. Continue reading his insightful look at sea otter ecology on the Panama Jack blog.