Last week we got a report from staff members at the Channel Islands National Park that a sea otter was spotted between Anacapa Island and Ventura, on the mainland.
Of course this is well into the no otter zone. If Fish and Wildlife Service were still following their official policy, this intrepid otter would have been scooped up in a net and shipped back north, with potential fatal consequences. Luckily, the Service isn’t removing otters from the no otter zone anymore, so this otter got to continue on its way, breaking new ground for otters everywhere. Well, not entirely new ground. Although rare, otters are occasionally seen checking out their former habitat, the Channel Islands. According to Brian Hatfield, a USGS scientist in Ventura, “If it is a female, it is not too far from where Steve Shimek saw a mother and pup back in July 2003.”
Interestingly, scientists believe that this recently spotted otter is a female, thanks to the tell-tale scars on her nose. In order to stay afloat during mating, male otters will latch onto the female otter’s face–with their teeth. The resulting bloody or scabbed nose is often the easiest way to distinguish female sea otters (note the tender-looking pinkness of the nose in the above photo). Usually, we see the rapscallion bachelor males pushing out the edges of established territory, so to see a female otter so far south is surprising.
Scientists are still discussing amongst themselves to determine consensus on the otter’s sex.
While I’m always pleased to hear of otters pushing the envelope on their range, I also can’t forget that once she swam past Point Conception into the no otter zone this otter became less worthy of protection in the eyes of the law. With the loss of valuable ESA and MMPA protections, she is far more susceptible to human caused harm than she would be anywhere else in California. If she is struck by a boat, caught in fishing gear or otherwise harmed, it is completely legal, as “incidental take”. We’re fighting these senseless rules in our lawsuit with Environmental Defense Center against the Service to end the no otter zone, and news like this is a great reminder why. If you want to learn more about our legal battle, and how you can support full protection for otters, visit our no otter zone information page on our website.
In other otter news, we are waiting for the results of the fall count, which will be a little different this year thanks to new sampling techniques. We should hear an update within the month, and rumour has it that the pup count might bring us good news.