Sure, sea otters are cute. But they're also essential to Monterey Bay's health. Here's why, plus where to spot them now along the northern California coast.
1. Sea otters keep kelp forests healthy
Giant kelp forests provide food and shelter for Monterey Bay's vibrant ecosystem, whose steep underwater canyons teem with tiny fish and shrimp. Without sea otters around to dine on kelp-eating sea urchins, the kelp could disappear, turning Monterey Bay into an undersea desert. Which happened, more than a hundred years ago, after sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction for their lustrous fur.
2. They set the stage for others
Now protected by the Endangered Species Act, southern sea otters help to keep Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary an active underwater buffet for all kinds of marine life, from whales and sharks to sea birds. A Red Rock crab is just an appetizer for this mom and pup.
3. They steal the spotlight
When Big Blue Live aired on public television early last month, viewers voted these cuties the most popular marine creatures in an online poll. (Who can blame them?) If you missed the series, a joint presentation of PBS and BBC earth, plan an outing to Monterey Bay. Clear fall days are ideal for spotting sea otters in coastal waters and estuaries near Cannery Row, Point Lobos State Natural Reserve in Carmel, and Moss Landing Harbor. For a closer look, take a guided kayak tour of Monterey Harbor or Elkhorn Slough, or head to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You can even view sea otters on one of two live Elkhorn Slough Otter Cams, or the aquarium's Sea Otter Cam, from your computer.