Sunday, February 12, 2012

sea otter ~ 02/12/12 ~ Coast Guard Pier

southern sea otter
Enhydra lutris nereis

I was really excited to see this sea otter so close to the boat loading ramp near the Coast Guard Pier. I've been keeping an eye out for them, because babies should be appearing anytime now. As usual for around here, this one was tagged on its foot. What was especially fun to see was how it wrapped itself in kelp as it took a snooze. It kept one paw over its nose for the 20 or so minutes I watched it. So cute!

Heavy sigh... Most of my sea otter pictures are crappy little blobs of brown floating in the water. Thanks to Ingrid of The Free Quark, I realized my pride for staying on trails and respecting distance with animals may be deluded at times. I probably got too close to this sea otter (maybe within 15 ft.) to take its picture. There are plenty of incredible photographs of sea otters out there done by people who know what they're doing and with cameras equipped with lenses as long as my arm, so why did I feel the need to take a close picture with my pocket point-and-shoot for my blog? I don't have a good answer. Ingrid also has a very good page on Wildlife Photography Ethics & Philosophy. I find it very easy to point my finger at others and question how they got such a great photograph of an animal, but really I need to look at my own behavior. In some respects, I am still very proud of my crappy photos.

As I was searching for different links for the ID above, I discovered the subspecies Enhydra lutris nereis is listed as "threatened" by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but the species Enhydra lutris, including the two northern populations, is listed as "endangered" by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Can anyone explain this discrepancy to me?

ps 12/22/15 - I honestly can't recall why I thought the otter pups would show in February.  Maybe I was assuming they're similar in timing to the harbor seal births?  It's likely I may have made an incorrect assumption as to when sea otter pups are birthed.  I've been seeing pups this year since before Thanksgiving at this exact spot near the Coast Guard Pier.  The MBA had one birthed a couple days ago in their tide pool.


Arro said...

That is such an amazing photo of that little guy! I adore otters, but really, how could anyone not? I guess if they messed up your fishing spot, as my father would always chalk it up to when he couldn't catch a thing, you might get a tad annoyed. And I always preferred taking my own photos to finding a really good one, too. It just seems so much more personal and inviting.

Imperfect and tense said...

Awww! Cuteness overload! The sea otter doesn't seem perturbed by your presence, so I wouldn't worry too much. Sometimes we have to remember that we're just another large mammal, and if we're not posing a threat, then a couple of consenting mammals can share the same space. I'm guessing that the distinction in listing is down to international, national and local circumstances. A globally rare creature can be locally abundant? And I'm still grinning at the cuteness :o)

ingrid said...

Katie, thanks so much for linking out to my blog on this post. Your words remind me that it's important to always reassess our methods. I believe in personal transformation in any area, and your post has given me some things to ruminate on.

You are doing a beautiful job all around and I wouldn't be too self-critical. It's the people who should be self-critical on this topic who usually aren't. :)

I'm careful to post the ethical guidelines at my site because, 1) I see so much of the opposite and just want people to at least think about it, and 2) I see people trying to emulate what they see in magazine pages, but with lenses not adapted to the task. Closeups can be deceiving (you've probably seen some of those Hubble-style telephoto lenses -- $15K worth). But with some patience, and even a much-less-expensive lens like mine, people can still get some nice photos without violating those ethics egregiously.

At the same time, Imperfect-and-tense, in the comments above, has a point about how the otter is reacting to you. There are obviously legal guidelines about approaching certain animals, but I use my growing understanding of animal behavior to guide a lot of my shots. If I see an animal becoming noticeably affected by my presence, I definitely back off. I always do my best not to even get to that point, but sometimes even walking on a pathway startles an animal you didn't intend to surprise. Sometimes just pointing your lens at an animal -- from a reasonable distance -- causes it to leave. All of us do that. You can't help it and you can't always know how an animal will react to you until you take that step.

When I was first photographing wildlife, I wasn't as attuned to the process as I am now. This philosophy evolved over time. I think anyone who develops a passion for wildlife and wildlife photography has the desire for closer and better shots. One thing I've found is that the closeups tend to happen more when I stay still and approach gently and slowly. Often, if I'm there long enough, the animals will just see you as a fixture in the environment and will approach of their own accord. Short of having a blind, it's probably the best way to get good shots. And, of course, there are birds or animals who will never approach under any circumstances.

All of that takes time that most of us, including myself, don't have. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. The truth is, human interaction with nature causes some changes in behavior, regardless. I think the best any of us can do is to be conscious of that, and minimize the intrusion to the best of our ability.

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Arro, I could be totally wrong, but I think sea otters feed mainly on sea urchins, crabs, and abalone. Your dad may have been thinking of harbor seals and sea lions, which do feed on fish and have a bad rap for messing up fishing for humans (

Thanks, Graeme. It was still sleeping when I left. There are only 2,300 of these animals along CA's extensive coast, but is much better than the 50-300 reported back in 1938. For Monterey, I see more sea otters than I do squirrels. Seriously.

Ah, Ingrid, a hearty thanks for your comments. In fairness, I added a bit in my post about how my pocket point-and-shoot can't compare to lenses as long as my arm. I, in no way, consider myself a wildlife photographer. Plus, really I try to remember I'm out hiking, and this whole nature thing is supposedly secondary to help me appreciate the outdoors better and not be so ignorant about life. Even if I did have fancy equipment, I don't think I'll ever capture really great photographs, because I often can't stay still long enough and I'm often rather impatient. I always love it when fellow bloggers help me think about things I should have been thinking about to begin with.

Rotton Yarns said...

Katie - thanks again for reminding me of last years trip to California. The sea otters are so cute and such big posers! They must love it with all the attention the get. Superb, happy times. They made number four on the 'top ten wildlife sights of the trip' list!

Katie (Nature ID) said...

John, I'm curious now... what were your other eight wildlife sights, besides the leatherback turtle?