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Wildlife Officials Remind Everyone to Leave Sea Otters Alone as Social Media Interest Encourages Interaction

Wildlife officials want to remind anyone enjoying time on the California coast to leave sea otters alone. The announcement comes a month after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced plans to track down a sea otter that steals surfboards and attacks people in the Santa Cruz area.

Officials say there’s been an increase in boaters and others getting too close to sea otters. The extra engagement messes with otters’ resting time which is essential to their health. When not resting, the animal is on the hunt as they must eat 20% to 30% of their body weight daily.

FWS is worried the recent addition of photos and videos shared on social media is encouraging people to try and interact with wild otters.

“Sea otters face significant challenges in the wild, from shark bites to adapting to a changing climate, all while maintaining the energy to survive and raise their young. Additional unnecessary human-caused disturbance adds another threat to their already difficult life in the wild,” said Lilian Carswell with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a press release. “By maintaining a safe distance and giving them their space, you can help sea otters thrive in the wild.” 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released the following rules to keep in mind when near otters:
  • Be alert: Be aware of your surroundings and alert to nearby wildlife when recreating. 
  • Maintain a safe distance: If a sea otter notices you, you are likely too close and should back away. 
  • Keep at least 60 ft. (or five kayak lengths) away, passing by parallel rather than pointing directly at any animals and moving slowly but steadily past rather than stopping. 
  • Slow down: Take caution in areas where sea otters are known to be present. Watercraft should slow down around kelp forests, where sea otters often rest but can be difficult to see. Be aware that a sea otter may come up from underwater unexpectedly.    
  • Keep pets leashed: Keep pets on a leash on and around docks and harbors, and never allow interactions, even if the animals appear to be playing. Look for a designated pet beach as an alternative. 
  • Never feed sea otters: Feeding otters can cause them to become aggressive which could result in their removal from the population and placement in an animal care facility. 

The team trying to find the sea otter includes officials with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who say the surfboard-stealing otter has approached people before. They believe people may have fed the animal, so the otter feels comfortable approaching people.

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