Otterly delightful: Bringing otters back to the bay | Notes on the Valley | Monith Ilavarasan | |

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By Monith Ilavarasan

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About this blog: My parents, brother, and I moved to Pleasanton when I was in the seventh grade. I then graduated from Amador Valley High School, went to college at UC Davis and started out a career in tech. After several years working in large co...  (More)

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Otterly delightful: Bringing otters back to the bay

Uploaded: Jul 12, 2023
This past month a delegation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) visited cities across the Bay Area to advocate for the resettlement of otters in the region. These otter enthusiasts looked to drum up support for the reintroduction of otters in the region after a nearly 100 year hiatus.

My first brush with otters was in the “Redwall” series of books written by Brian Jacques. To me I was fascinated by their amazing prowess with the bow, their desire for revenge against the pirates who hunted them, and their love of hotroot soup.

My first actual brush with otters was years later while kayaking in the elkhorn slough. Although they didn’t lead our group against a life or death battle with corsairs, I still was enthralled to meet them in person.

The otter is a creature of remarkable beauty. Its long body is covered in a velvety coat of fur which shimmers with a rich variety of shades ranging from deep browns to lustrous blacks. The coat is a natural marvel, designed to keep it warm and buoyant in the water.

While kayaking through the slough we witnessed them lazily floating on their backs, alternating between eating and sleeping. When eating, they feast on fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and mollusks.

While sleeping, they often tangle up in kelp or seaweed to keep themselves in place. If there is no ocean brush nearby they find another otter and hold hands together. It’s not just limited to the same members of a family either, groups of otters will often link hands while dozing even if they’re not related.

When not eating or sleeping the otter's lifestyle revolves around swimming in it's aquatic playground. It spends much of its time gracefully propelling itself through rivers, lakes, and coastal waters.

Once abundant in the Bay, these back stroking critters have faced significant challenges. driven by the demand for their luxuriant pelts, fur trading during the 18th and 19th centuries nearly decimated their population. The hunt was so aggressive that by the early 1900s, sea otters were thought to be extinct in California. All that was left was a tiny population of sea otters off the coast of Big Sur.

In the mid-20th century, conservation efforts attempted to spearhead the revival of otters. The Monterey Bay Aquarium was established in 1938 and was dedicated to the conservation and study of marine life. Recognizing the importance of protecting these charismatic creatures, the aquarium played a crucial role in raising awareness about otter conservation.

In 1977, a historic event occurred—the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) launched the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan, aimed at restoring the population along the California coast. The plan included protective measures, such as the establishment of marine reserves and restrictions on commercial fishing, to ensure the otters' habitat and food sources were preserved.

The latest outreach by the USFWS to the city of Emeryville went well. According to the East Bay Times, the Mayor suggested the Emeryville Crescent State Marine Reserve as a potential landing spot to start the re-introduction. I look forward to hanging out with my best sea friends right here in the Bay real soon.
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