Sea-Otter Sleuthing

The Coastal Living "Wild and Winsome" feature (September 2003) likely whetted your appetite for a visit to Central California's Monterey Peninsula. Here are some tips to make creature-spotting beneficial for both you and the furry mammals.

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Sea Otter Spotting

Shelley Metcalf

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Otter-viewing ranks among the most popular activities at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where you can catch daily feeding times for Rosa, Maggie, and Mae. These rescued young females lacked adequate survival skills for a successful return to the wild. As nurtured captives, they will captivate aquarium visitors for the foreseeable future.

But many rehabilitated otters have successfully rejoined their kin in habitats on California's Central Coast, and you can see the species au naturel. From Monterey to Point Lobos State Reserve, the peninsula offers more than a dozen promising sites for viewing wild otters. To see them as such is to appreciate how important it is to protect their future―one compromised by human and environmental factors.

In this compact area, a day or two's meandering by foot and car can take you to most, or all, of these sites.

Monterey:

• Municipal Wharf
• Fisherman's Wharf
• The Coast Guard Wharf/Breakwater Cove between Fisherman's Wharf and Cannery Row
• Cannery Row―particularly in the cove below the Monterey Plaza Hotel & Spa

Pacific Grove:

• Lovers Point, Otter Point, and Point Piños―all waterfront vistas along Ocean View Boulevard and Sunset Avenue

Along the 17-Mile Drive and Pebble Beach:

• Point Joe, Bird Rock, Cypress Point, and Pescadero Point

Carmel:

• Carmel Point, north of the Carmel River

The very best:

• Point Lobos State Reserve, with its exquisite convolutions of coves and promontories

OTTER-SPOTTING TIPS

Now that you've focused on the sites, here are some suggestions for interspecies pleasure and cooperation:

• Carry binoculars to hone in on the mammals, who may be frolicking, napping, or nurturing their young just beyond naked-eye sighting.
• For photo-ops, a telephoto lens comes in handy.
• If you're boating or kayaking, stay at least 50 feet from the otters.
• Enjoy the mammals quietly and respectfully, without alarming them in any way.
• Do not approach an otter that appears to be stranded. If in the water, the mammal may be a pup anchored in the kelp while its mother is diving for food―and she'll probably return. If it's on land, and you suspect injury or stranding, call the aquarium's 24-hour security number, 831/648-4840, as soon as possible.

On the topic of rescuing sea otters, Michelle Staedler makes an urgent plea. She's research coordinator for the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program. "Sometimes people actually come in carrying an otter," she says. "But we try to educate folks not to do that. Instead, call the hotline." The SORAC team will immediately assess the situation. They know how to transport the animal to shelter, safety, and―in many cases―on the road to rehabilitation for a return to its wild habitat.

• For a free "Otter Spotting Guide," and more on how you can help much-needed conservation for threatened California sea otters, contact: Friends of the Sea Otter, 381 Cannery Row, Suite Q, Monterey, CA 93940; call 831/642-9037 or visit seaotters.org. Annual memberships start at $15 and include regular newsletters, otter status reports, and an invitation to the annual meeting held each autumn in Monterey. All dues and donations support the effective advocacy and educational programs sponsored by this group whose members now total more than 4,000 people worldwide.

• To book knowledgeable and entertaining naturalist Milos Radakovich for a personal tour of wild-otter haunts, call 831/643-2638 or visit www.mbay.net/~baynet. Fees vary depending upon the number of people, the length of the tour, and whether or not a picnic lunch is desired.

• For more on sea otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, contact 831/648-4800 or mbayaq.org. Daily public feeding times for Rosa, Maggie, and Mae currently are 10:30, 1:30, and 3:30.

• Be sure your otter-spotting kit includes "Franko's Map of Monterey" ($6 regular, or $10―and worth it―for waterproof, rip-proof plastic that folds). Creator Frank Nielsen specializes in detailed coastal maps. Visit frankosmaps.com, and type "Monterey" into the site search.

• Final tip: Have an otterly delightful time.

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