I had just seen the Kelp Forest exhibit inside the aquarium and realized that what I had thought of before as debris was actually kelp, and amongst that kelp were little dark blobs, and as I stared more keenly those dark blobs were actually moving.
Much to my delight I realized they were sea otters. These photos are about as good as I could get but I was thrilled to get my first view of the sea otter in years. When we lived here before they seemed to be closer to the shore but these little guys were way out there. If I had been brave enough I might have rented a kayak like the ones I saw; their 'drivers' seemed to be following the golden rule of not getting close enough to disturb them in their natural surroundings. They seemed happily content to keep munching on whatever they were munching on and I was mesmerized, but oh what I would give for the eyes of a hawk.
I found the following paragraph here and there is another great article which you can find here in which Mr. Harper says that there are two subspecies of sea otters, the northern and the southern. The northern version is larger, with some males recorded as weighing over 100 pounds, with the average between 70 and 90 pounds. Sea otters can reach 4.5 feet in length and live as long as 15 to 20 years in the wild. Capable of diving as deep as 330 feet in search of food, the sea otter spends most of its life in the water and is not comfortable on land.
"Sea otters are the most recently evolved marine mammal. It is believed that they originated from river otter stock or ancestors approximately 5-7 million years ago. Sea otters are in the weasel or mustelid family. Other members of that family include badgers, polecats, skunks, wolverines, martens, weasels, fishers, sables, and river otters."I loved how this family seemed to be in a perfect circle and were using the kelp to anchor themselves. A group of sea otters is called a 'rack', so this small rack of sea otters kept me riveted for almost an hour. In the top right of the photo is some kind of bird, a Cormorant maybe?
Sea otters are a classic example of a keystone species; their presence affects the ecosystem more profoundly than their size and numbers would suggest. Sea otters keep the population of certain benthic (sea floor) herbivores, particularly sea urchins, in check. Sea urchins graze on the lower stems of kelp, causing the kelp to drift away and die. Loss of the habitat and nutrients provided by kelp forests leads to profound cascade effects on the marine ecosystem. North Pacific areas that do not have sea otters often turn into urchin barrens, with abundant sea urchins and no kelp forest.
Camera Critters is a wonderful meme created by Misty Dawn.