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Be mindful of otters 

I'm sure I'm not the only one who cherishes the breathtaking geography of SLO County. With our beautiful landscape comes countless other species who depend on it as well. Among all of the diverse creatures we share our home with, sea otters are without a doubt a crowd favorite. Their charming mannerisms and adorable appearance make them hard to overlook.

Despite this, they have made their way onto the list of threatened species. Although their numbers reached a record high in 2016, they have been on the decline since. Habitat pollution, nutrient deficiency, infectious diseases, and shark bites currently plague the Southern sea otter population, but human disturbance also accounts for a large percentage of sea otter mortality.

Marine recreationists are spotted at almost all times of the year observing and photographing sea otters. This is harmless and a wonderful tourist attraction for the most part. However, water activities such as kayaking or stand-up paddling put observers in close proximity to otters. From an otter's perspective, this may be a stressful encounter that can result in irregular behavioral patterns, a waste of energy, and even pup abandonment. Part of sea otters' unique appeal is their familial bonds. Mothers will spend up to 14 hours a day diving to forage for their pups. This is a great expenditure of energy, so if an otter is threatened and forced to dive, the additional energy spent can be fatal for the mother or pup.

The Morro Bay National Estuary Program encourages those who partake in these pastimes to respect the wildlife by maintaining a reasonable distance, avoiding a direct approach, and paying attention to their surroundings.

Quinn Chamblin

San Luis Obispo

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