Reward Offered in Sea Otter Shootings

Twin baby sea otters rest on mom''s belly as she floats near Morro Bay | Photo: Mike Baird/Flickr/Creative Commons License

It's kind of hard to imagine anyone wanting to hurt one of California's cutest marine mammals, but apparently someone did in September, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to enlist the public's help in finding out just who.

According to USFWS, three southern sea otters were shot to death at Asilomar State Beach in the Monterey County community of Pacific Grove, and the agency announced Friday that a $21,000 reward has been posted for information leading to the capture of the person or people responsible. Sea otters are a federally Threatened species, and are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

"These baseless killings are nothing short of acts of barbarism," Kim Delfino of Defenders of Wildlife said Friday. "Sea otters are one of the charismatic species that make our country such a special place, and we must do all that we can to protect and champion these imperiled animals."

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According to USFWS, two of the otters were shot in the head and one in the back, which would seem to rule out anything but deliberate cruelty. The miscreant(s) could face prison sentences and fines of up to $100,000 if convicted.

When they aren't being shot to death by yahoos, southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) can live for 15 to 20 years in the wild. Unlike other many other marine mammals, these weasel family members have no thick insulating layer of fat to keep them warm in the cold Pacific. Instead, they rely on thick fur, with up to 650,000 hairs per square inch, and body heat to keep them from going hypothermic.

Sea otters can eat a quarter of their body weight each day to keep those metabolic fires stoked, and they tend to prefer seafloor invertebrates like sea urchin, abalone and clams, crabs, sand dollars, squid, and even octopus.

Those thick pelts nearly proved the species' undoing: the otters are still recovering from a bout of 19th Century exploitation by furriers from North America and Asia. About 3,000 sea otters now live off the California coast: historic highs may have ranged up to 16,000.

The otters are supremely popular for their cuteness and their propensity for tool use in preparing their food, which in turn adds to their cuteness. That means that there's a good chance someone who happens to know who shot these three otters will be offended enough to turn their acquaintance in to the authorities. If that's you, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Rebecca Roca wants to talk to you at (916) 569-8488 or rebecca_roca@fws.gov.

The reward funds were provided by Friends of the Sea Otter, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Defenders of Wildlife, Dusty Nabor, Humane Society of the United States, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and U.C. Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center.

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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