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Natural Perspectives: Protecting California's sea otters

December 01, 2010|By Vic Leipzig and Lou Murray
  • Sea otters lounge around in Montrrey.
Sea otters lounge around in Montrrey. (HB Independent )

Vic and I spent the Thanksgiving holidays in Monterey with our son Scott, his wife, Nicole, and their three little daughters, Allison, Lauren and Megan. I missed cooking our holiday dinner, but Thanksgiving is really more about family than food.

We thoroughly enjoyed a delicious and stress-free dinner buffet at the Marriott. There were so many choices of things to eat that it was impossible to try them all. We didn't miss cleaning dirty pots and pans one little bit. No cooking and no cleanup meant that we had more time for visiting with each other.

Our three granddaughters are in preschool now, and are as cute as can be. The twins, Allison and Lauren, will turn 5 in a few weeks, and Megan is nearly 3. Their birthdays fall between Christmas and New Year's.

We attended a Christmas tree lighting in Monterey, complete with carolers and Santa's workshop. The girls weren't the least bit shy about talking to Santa, and they knew exactly what they wanted. Much to our surprise, all three of them asked Santa for a baby sister! That request will be hard for Santa to fill with only three weeks notice. Maybe next Christmas.

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On my trip to Monterey with the Photographic Society of Orange County in April last year, I discovered that sea otters hang out around the mouth of the Salinas River by Moss Landing. They may be attracted by the warm water that is released by the power plant near the river mouth.

Last week we checked, and sure enough, more than 30 otters were lolling about in the shallows, napping and grooming themselves. Seeing so many wild sea otters in one place sent shivers up my spine.

As you may know, sea otters nearly went extinct. Hunted heavily for their fur by Russian whalers, sea otter numbers plummeted during the 1800s. With hunters taking 200,000 sea otters a year, the population seemed doomed. By the start of the 20th century, only about 2,000 sea otters remained in the Pacific.

The California sea otter subspecies was thought to have gone extinct until a relict population was found in an isolated Big Sur cove in 1938. They were given legal protection, and slowly the otter numbers rebounded. The California sea otter population peaked at 2,800 animals in 2007. Numbers have declined slightly since then.

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