Alaska is the heartland of the sea otter’s range and we saw these adorable marine mammals with a white face everywhere. They were by far my favourite to observe as they were so playful and curious – and did I mention cute? I was very happy when we this morning was going out for some kayaking in calm cove. This would be the perfect place for a sea otter to hang out so I was hoping to come close to them with the kayak.
The clouds were low and there was still some rain in the air, but as we set out the weather improved. It did not take long before we observed both sea otters and steller sea lions in the cove. We tried getting close to them, but these little players would only allow us to come a certain distance before they would disappear under water and show up in a completely different location.
Sea otters have the thickest fur of any mammal. and indigenous people have always hunted the sea otter for food and fur. But it was not before large scale hunting started in the 18th century the sea otters became endangered. Otter pelts were considered one of the world’s most valuable types of fur and more than a million sea otters were killed. When the North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911 was signed it was believed that only 1,000–2,000 individuals remained in the wild and it was likely that the species would become extinct.
The sea otters where definitely playing cat and mouse with us and it seemed like they had fun doing it. We got lucky when one of the sea otters became curious and decided to check us out. He popped out of the water just 3-4 meters from our kayak. I was way to slow getting a picture of it so you can only see my hubby pointing at the ripples in the water after it dived under.
ANOTHER SET BACK
The sea otters had a new set back when the Exxon Valdez spill 4 March 1989 killed thousands of sea otters in Prince William Sound. These marine mammals are particularly vulnerable to oil spills as they spend a lot of time at the surface. When their fur is soaked with oil it loses its ability to retain air for insulation and the animal quickly die from hypothermia.
A bit later the sea otter again popped out of the water and swam under our kayak. That was so exciting – I could actually see the shadow of it when it passed us under water. At this time the rain had gained in strength again and the camera had been secured in the water proof bag so no photos, but I will never forget that moment.
WHERE TO FIND THEM
Typically sea otters prefer to stay closer to shore and like calmer areas where they are protected from the wind and waves. The waters can’t be too deep as they would normally feed on marine invertebrates. Often we would see them laying on their back feeding on sea urchins. We never observed them on land which makes sense as they are very clumsy on land, but an acrobat in the water. In a very secluded bay we once came across what seemed to be a nursery. In the cove was several mothers laying on their back each with a baby on the belly.
The weather cleared up again towards the end of our morning kayaking adventure. I could have stayed kayaking amongst the sea otters all day, but this was our last day in Prince William Sound and we were still to hike to an abandoned gold mine and meet up with some fast swimming Dall’s Porpoises.