Several boaters spotted and photographed a sea otter feeding in Tomales Bay this week, the first confirmed sighting of a sea otter in the bay since 2005.
Nature photographer Richard Blair took the above photo from the boat of longtime Inverness conservationist Richard Plant on Monday, Feb. 3. Brett Miller, who was leading a Saturday kayak trip for Point Reyes Outdoors, also photographed the otter swimming through the bay.
National Park Service biologist Sarah Allen said the otter was probably a male, and likely stopping by on its way back to the southern sea otters’ “core area” between Half Moon Bay and Point Conception. Male sea otters disperse around the California coast in the winter, Allen said, before returning to the core area around this time of year. And while they’re unusual but not unheard-of on the outer coast outside Tomales Bay, to see them actually enter the bay is something rare.
“It’s kind of like a whale coming in the bay,” Allen said. “They’re unusual, you’ll see them for a while, they’ll leave.”
Even more exciting would be to spot a female, since females generally don’t disperse in the winter and so a sighting might be a sign that the entire population of California sea otters was expanding its range. After a slow recovery from near-extinction in the 1930s California sea otters have struggled for the past decade, with the population fluctuating between 2,500-3,000 individuals, according to data from the US Geological Survey. The most recent three-year population average, released by the USGS in November, was 2,882, up from 2,792 in 2012.
While the incredible abundance of sea otters in San Francisco Bay and along the California coast is well documented, Allen said there’s not much information about the otters’ historical presence in Tomales Bay.
Filling out your taxes? You can check a box, line 410, on your state income tax form 540 to support the California Sea Otter Fund, which funds sea otter research and conservation in California. For further instructions, see the California Sea Otter Tax Check-off page at Friends of the Sea Otter.
Most recent in Habitats: Freshwater, Bay, Marine
Hardly anyone knew about the plant called sea-blite when it lived on the shores of the San Francisco Bay. No one noticed when it disappeared. Now, thirty years after it went locally extinct, a freelance coastal ecologist sets out on an unlikely mission to bring it back.
Habitats: Freshwater, Bay, Marine | Plants and Fungi
Sea snails flee from predators. A new research paper suggests that ocean acidification impairs that ability.
Climate Change | Habitats: Freshwater, Bay, Marine | Wildlife: Invertebrates, Reptiles, Amphibians
Whale Watching: The Oceanic Society has offered naturalist-led whale-watching excursions in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1972. Excursions leave from San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, and Bodega Bay, on weekends from late December through mid-May. Tours also visit the Farallon Islands and Cordell Bank, a submerged island mass northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. […]
Habitats: Freshwater, Bay, Marine | Recreation | Wildlife: Birds, Mammals, Fish