Sea otters really are adorable creatures. So much so that for a long time YouTube’s most popular video was of two sea otters holding hands (now I believe it involves kittens doing dumb things, which just goes to show how quickly standards can slip.)
In fact it’s pretty lucky that any sea otters survived to the video age. They were hunted almost to extinction by the early 1900s and the couple of thousand sea otters now living in California are all descended from 50 surviving individuals.
We drove about half and hour north of Monterey to Moss Landing where we’d been told by locals we’d certainly find some otters. They were quite right: We discovered a group of about 20 sea otters ‘rafting’ – floating quietly on their backs in the sun. The otters have exceptionally dense fur which makes them very buoyant (as well as perfect 19th Century coat-material) so they float high out of the water looking about with an alert whiskered look. They are mammals and technically the largest members of the weasel family; although they honestly look a lot more like seals than weasels from a distance.
They use their abundant whiskers to help find the urchins and shellfish they love to eat. Then they will do something far more unusual: they use rocks as tools to break the shellfish from their rocky fastnesses. We were fascinated to find that they not only use rocks as tools, but keep their own individual rock in a little pouch under their arm. A bit like the otter version of a swiss army knife.
Our visit to a lovely sandy beach over a sand dune from the sea otters rafting area was truncated when a freak wave leapt up and soaked the boys. Although it’s sunny at the moment, it’s too cold for running about with a fair chunk of the Pacific Ocean dripping off you. As we walked back to the car we met a local (who introduced herself by complimenting the boys on their hats). She gave us some suggestions for places to eat in San Francisco, explained that Monterey was filled with right-wing republicans and endeared herself to us no end by telling the boys at length how lucky they were to have such fabulous parents.
In the afternoon we went for a great walk south along the coast to a point where we’d been told we might be able to see whales. We didn’t see any sign of whales, but did find a young man with a strange apparatus that combined a telescope with a tv-like arial and a machine that sounded a lot like a Geiger counter in action. It turned out that he was a volunteer tracking sea otters using embedded radio transmitters. The transmitters broadcast an individualised signal so the otters can be personally tracked. He assured us that there was a day-old baby otter just out in front of us but we failed to spot it amongst the kelp. Shame, that would have been really cute.