#MapMonday: Sea Otter Awareness

Happy Sea Otter Awareness Week! Lindsay chats with our California Representative, Andy, about our brand new sea otter story map. Float along with us through southern sea otter habitat so we can all learn how to better coexist with these otterly amazing creatures.

Explore the map: http://dfnd.us/seaotterawarenssmap

Learn more about Sea Otter Awareness Week: https://defenders.org/sea-otter-awareness-week

Click to view video transcript

Lindsay: Happy #MapMonday everyone and welcome to Sea Otter Awareness Week!

Each year, the third week of September serves as a special time to celebrate our significant otters.

This week is meant for showing support for our zoological and educational institutions, governmental agencies and communities that do pretty amazing things to ensure the protection of our sea otter populations and habitats.

Typically during this week, there would be gatherings and events to inspire a deeper awareness of these otterly amazing creatures. This year, we had to get a little more creative in a live webinar series that you can attend to learn more about otters and their habitat! Thankfully, you can also count on Map Mondays to continue to share stories and science about species like the sea otter.

Today we will coast on the California current to check out some of the sweet spots for sea otter sightings and better understand why they are so critical to the species.

Southern sea otters are currently found from Ano Nuevo to Gaviota, California. Unfortunately, this is just a fraction of the range sea otters used to inhabit.

Intense hunting throughout the 19th century nearly wiped out the species in California except for a small remnant group along the Big Sur Coast. With international and federal protections, the sea otter population has clawed its way toward recovery over the past 100 years or so, but it hasn’t expanded beyond its roughly 300-mile range for more than two decades.

Any chance of reclaiming their full historic range depends on navigating threats from white sharks and oil spills, surmounting challenges from land-borne diseases and achieving true coexistence with humans.

However, there are still some areas that are significant for sea otters. For example, major research stations in Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay serve as hubs for sea otter science and contribute to sea otter conservation and recovery. There are great viewing areas in Elkhorn Slough, an estuary that extends inland from the middle of the Monterey Bay coastline, in Monterey Harbor and all around the Monterey Peninsula.

This year’s theme for Sea Otter Awareness Week is Bridging the Gaps, signifying the gaps in our knowledge for how to best protect our marine ecosystems and vulnerable species.

The logo is a bridge - also symbolizing the critical role that sea otters play in maintaining the strength, diversity and productivity of kelp forest and estuaries.

As an apex predator, the sea otter completes the food chain, which would otherwise collapse or become unbalanced if they were to disappear. To prevent that from happening, Defenders of Wildlife is working with local communities and Sea Otter Savvy, a program educating Californians on how to behave responsibly around sea otters, to foster sea otter stewardship along the coast and educate the public on the importance of sea otters and other California wildlife.

Defenders also has field staff on the ground working to help bridge these gaps, including our California Representative, Andy Johnson.

Over to you Andy!

Andy: Thanks Lindsay.

Gena Bentall at Sea Otter Savvy envisioned an online tool that would not only show people where to learn about and view sea otters in California but would also highlight places where people tend to disturb sea otters the most. Defenders of Wildlife’s mapping experts stepped in to create a story map that realizes Gena’s vision.

Because of the one-dimensional nature of the California coast, researchers have established locations within the sea otter range using the “ATOS” line, A-T-O-S, which stands for “As The Otter Swims.” This linear axis consists of points spaced at 500-meter intervals along the coast. The southern tip of the Golden Gate Bridge was assigned a value of 0, and then the ATOS values increase moving southward. The northern extent of the southern sea otter range, which lies at Pigeon Point, just north of Point Ano Nuevo, sits at ATOS 162. And the southern end of the range lies just southeast of Gaviota State Beach at ATOS 1162.

So the idea behind the story map is for visitors to float down the coast along the ATOS line and pick up engaging sea otter stories and information along the way.

Back to you, Lindsay!

Lindsay: Thanks Andy!

If you are ever lucky enough to travel to one of these viewing sights, remember that sea otter health and well-being come first! Living close to shore, sea otters are incredibly delicate and vulnerable to human disturbance. When viewers get too close to an otter, they often force the otter to wake up, become alert and swim away, which can stress the otter and cause it to expend extra energy.

So respect the nap! I think I’ll use that with my 2 year old!

Even if you aren’t located directly on a coast, you can still make a difference. So much of what we spread on the land makes its way to the ocean: plastics, fertilizers, chemicals… they enter our waterways and into the shores where marine creatures live. So don’t dump it!

Finally… During Sea Otter Awareness week and every week after that, be Sea Otter Savvy! And share this storymap, which doubles as a tool where you can record your sea otter sightings. See you next Map Monday!

Lindsay Rosa
Senior Conservation Scientist

As a Conservaion GIS Scientist with the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders, Lindsay leads geospatial analysis projects to improve conservation policies and practices.