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Teddy bears of the ocean ... on a comeback.

Here's where to see sea otters off the northern California coast

A CAPTIVATING PLAYFULNESS and winsome faces make sea otter the teddy bears of the ocean.

In spring, they're easier to spot, since they bunch up in visible clusters as the kelp forests where they live shrink. Births peak between January and March, making it more likely to see pups riding on their mothers' chests.

Once abundant from Baja to Alaska, sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction for their luxurious fur before this was prohibited by an international treaty in 1911. While their comeback in Alaska has been strong despite setbacks like the oil spill near Valdez in 1989, their rise in California (where they number 1,900) has been slow.

Help is on the way. A California law now moves one threat--commercial fishing with gill nets, which can trap and drown otters--out beyond otter range. A new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan sets a comeback goal of 5,400 otters for the California population, and offers ways to meet it.

Scientists recently documented how widely otters' food preferences vary--not all dine only on abalone. Still, more otters will mean fewer shellfish, and the recovery plan is expected to meet resistance from sport and commerical shellfishing groups.


Males grow to an average of 4 1/2 feet and 64 pounds (females are about a third smaller), but often all you see at first is a tiny brown head bobbing in the water. For a closer look, bring binoculars.

When sea otters doze on the surface, they may wrap themselves in an anchor of kelp, or group with other otters in what's called a raft. They can be devilishly dexterous; at a Monterey Bay Aquarium tank, several otters dismantled the water jets and presented the parts to their handlers. Usually an otter floats on its back to eat, using a stone on its stomach as an anvil to crack shells.


Here's where to see them.

In the wild. In Montery, there's good viewing near Fisherman's Wharf. (On the adjacent trail, blue-jacketed volunteers from Friends of the Sea Otter help you find otters from 11 to 3 Sundays.) Point Lobos State Reserve and Garrapata State Beach are also good viewing spots. South of the Monterey Peninsula, try William R. Hearst, San Simeon, and Cayucos state beaches, and Morro Bay. Carmel's Sea Otter Center, run by the nonprofit Friends of the Sea Otter, has spotting maps and otter-bedecked gifts. It's in The Crossroads, at State 1 and Rio Road; hours are 10 to 3 daily, noon to 3 Sundays.

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Tanks hold four orphaned sea otters; feedings are at 11, 2, and 4:30. Hours are 10 to 6 daily; call (408) 648-4888 Admission is $9.75, $7.25 seniors and students ages 13 through 18, and $4.50 ages 3 through 12.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:sea otters
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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