The Year of the Otter

Move over, rabbit. We’re thinking that 2023 might just be The Year of the Otter.

By SC Vibes Staff
October 8, 2023
841, the Santa Cruz, CA otter that made nation wide news, snatches another longboard out in Pacific Ocean
Photo Credit: Native Santa Cruz: Mark Woodward @nativesantacruz

Let’s pledge to protect and respect them. Keep a safe distance, resist the temptation to interact, and support the organizations dedicated to otter conservation.”

Here in Santa Cruz we’ve always been a fan of these adorable, furry and playful creatures. Not only are they fun to watch, but they play a vital role in the health and vitality of Monterey Bay. In this issue of Santa Cruz Vibes Magazine, we’re diving headfirst into the otter craze. Join us as we paddle through the enchanting world of these aquatic acrobats. But hold on tight, because when you’re in the company of otters you never know what will happen.

Q: Wow, you guys have attracted global media attention this year. What’s your thoughts on becoming an overnight sensation?

A: Dude, we’re hardly an overnight sensation. In the late 1850s, otter pelts were all the rage. As our numbers dwindled, however, the Monterey Bay fell into ruin. Karma, I guess. But thanks to conservation efforts in the 1960s, fish stocks rebounded and marine habitats began to recover. We’ve been a California icon ever since. Have you seen all the cool T-shirts this year?

Q: Yes, love all the fun promo items. Saw them everywhere at a recent art and wine festival. But I thought the official state animal was the Grizzly Bear?

A: Next question, please. 

Q: Tell us a little bit more about a typical day. What do you like to eat?

A: It’s all about the crunch for me. Sea urchins, crabs, snails, mussels, and abalone. But our diet choices make us environmentalists, ya know.

Q: Please explain.

A: Well, we keep the kelp forests healthy and it’s the kelp that absorbs carbon dioxide. That whole climate change thing. Again, we’re here to save your tails, I guess. 

Q: We don’t have tails.

A: [Sigh] Are we about done here?

Q: Just a few more questions, please. What do you guys like to do for fun? Do you like surfing?

A: Seriously? Is this about 841? I’m so over it.  [splashing]

A surfer wearing an otter mask holds up a surfboard the reads 'Keep 841 Free'
Photo Credit: Native Santa Cruz: Mark Woodward @nativesantacruz

As we wrap up our otter-filled escapade, it’s clear that these little marvels are more than just cute faces and snuggly fur. Hopefully the current world wide coverage of Otter 841 will call attention to these unsung heroes of Monterey Bay, our OG environmentalists of the kelp forests that represent the embodiment of resilience in the face of adversity.

But as we revel in their adorableness and celebrate The Year of the Otter, let’s not forget the crucial role we play in their survival. These amazing creatures were once on the brink of extinction, and we must do everything in our power to ensure their continued well-being.

So, whether you’re rocking one of those trendy otter T-shirts or simply taking a moment to appreciate the ocean’s most playful ambassadors, let’s also pledge to protect and respect them. Keep a safe distance, resist the temptation to interact, and support the organizations dedicated to otter conservation. 

Because in Santa Cruz, every year is otterly amazing, and we owe it to these incredible creatures to ensure they thrive for generations to come. Stay groovy, Santa Cruz, and let’s make every year The Year of the Otter, in spirit and in action. 🌊🦦

A sea otter swims on its back in the Monterey Bay

Sea Otter Fun Facts

Source : Monterey Bay Aquarium 

There is so much more to a sea otter than meets the eye. Behind its cute face and fluffy fur, the sea otter is an aquatic environmentalist. By munching on urchins, it helps kelp forests flourish, and by crunching on crabs, it promotes eelgrass in estuaries. But this marine mammal is endangered — and needs our help

Habitat : In Monterey Bay, the sea otter lives in kelp forest and estuary habitats. 

The sea otter is an important part of both of these habitats — It’s a keystone species, which means that the health of sea otters is a good indication of the health of other species and ecosystems nearby.

In the kelp forest, it eats sea urchins and other animals that graze on giant kelp. When urchins go unchecked, they create areas called “urchin barrens” where nothing else lives. With sea otters helping to keep the urchins under control, kelp forests can thrive and support a rich community of plants and animals.  

Similarly, in estuaries, otters keep eelgrass healthy by eating crabs, which in turn allows the sea slug population to thrive. These sea slugs then eat algae that would otherwise coat and smother the eelgrass that fish need for food and shelter. 

Diet: Crabs, snails, urchins, clams, abalone, mussels and other invertebrates; northern sea otters also eat fish

Size: Measuring up to four feet (1.2 m) long and weighing up to 70 pounds (32 kg), the southern sea otter is the smallest marine mammal in North America.

Range: Southern sea otters canbe found along California’s central coast, from San Mateo County in the north to near Santa Barbara in the south. Northern sea otters are found along the coast of Alaska and Washington, and Russian otters are found inthe Pacific Ocean off Russia and Japan. 

Relatives: Weasels, river otters, ferrets

Population: The current southern sea otter population averages around 3,000 individuals.  Since the California population has a limited range and is close to human activity, they are considered endangered.