Eight California sea otters float in a kelp bed in Elkhorn Slough

Elkhorn Slough OtterCam Goes High Definition

The Elkhorn Slough OtterCam has been upgraded from standard to high-definition, and there is now a second HD video camera focused on sea otters, thanks to the generous support of the Acacia Foundation and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Now anyone can watch California’s adorable sea otters in HD by going to www.elkhornslough.org/ottercam.

Located in areas of the Elkhorn Slough Reserve’s salt marshes where sea otters often congregate, the two new cameras offer great image clarity and fine detail for viewing this iconic Monterey Bay marine mammal and a teeming cast of other Elkhorn Slough wildlife. Elkhorn Slough Ecological Reserve is managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The Elkhorn Slough OtterCam HD video streams will be featured as part of the PBS/BBC Big Blue Live television and online event, Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 (at www.pbs.org/big-blue-live/live-cams/elkhorn-slough-otter-cam). Anchored from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the three-day, live televised event will highlight the amazing marine life that converges off California’s central coast. The Big Blue Live website links to live cameras, including the Elkhorn Slough OtterCam.

Elkhorn Slough is home to the largest concentration of endangered southern sea otters (enhydra lutris nereis) on the California coast, and the first webcam dedicated to streaming live video of wild southern sea otters in their natural habitat. The Elkhorn Slough OtterCam has been streaming live video online from the tidal salt marshes of the Elkhorn Slough Reserve since 2012. The upgrade to high-definition enhances the OtterCam for both researchers and visitors.

For almost two years, researchers have used the Elkhorn Slough OtterCam to observe sea otter behavior such as foraging, grooming and raising pups. Stationed on the edge of the slough, the camera looks across pickleweed marsh and tidal channels of the slough. These channels are frequented largely by female otters and appear to be used as a nursery, as sea otters with pups are regularly seen in the meandering channels. During the past three years, the camera has provided video and still photographs documenting the growth of otter pups, interactions with harbor seals and other wildlife, and the movement of otters throughout the slough.

“The OtterCam has opened a unique window on the lives of sea otters. There are times we are seeing 25 or more otters in the protected channels of the slough’s marsh,” Elkhorn Slough Foundation (ESF) Executive Director Mark Silberstein said. “This suggests there may be more otters residing in the slough than previously thought. We’ve witnessed some unique behaviors, such as hauling out of the water, resting and grooming in the pickleweed marshes.”

Research is underway to better understand how sea otters are using the estuary, with the hope of helping southern sea otters recover in other parts of their historic range. In turn, recent evidence suggests that sea otters may yield important ecological benefits to the estuaries they inhabit. A study published by reserve researcher Brent Hughes in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that sea otters enhance the health of subtidal seagrass beds, as they do in kelp forests.

“We are pleased to present these remarkable images from the Elkhorn Slough Reserve, and shine a light on sea otter use of the estuary,” Reserve Manager Dave Feliz said. “The behavior of these animals in a salt marsh is little understood, yet the story is unfolding before the eyes of the world on ElkhornSlough.org. CDFW is happy to be a part of this new chapter in sea otter life history.”

Elkhorn Slough, in the central Monterey Bay area, encompasses a wide variety of habitats – oak woodlands, maritime chaparral, coastal prairie and the largest tract of tidal salt marsh in California south of San Francisco Bay – that support an incredible abundance and diversity of life. Elkhorn Slough hosts 550 species of marine invertebrates and 100 species of fish, as well as resident sea lions, harbor seals and the highest concentration of southern sea otters on the West Coast. On the Pacific flyway, Elkhorn Slough bird numbers can soar during migration seasons, nearly doubling the resident bird counts. The slough is designated a Globally Important Bird area, with more than 340 species identified in and around the slough.

ESF is a community-supported non-profit land trust whose mission is to conserve and restore the Elkhorn Slough and its watershed. ESF protects 4,000 acres of rare habitat including oak woodlands, maritime chaparral and wetlands. Since 1982, ESF has been the non-profit partner of the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (ESNERR).

ESNERR is managed by CDFW with administrative assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. ESNERR is one of 28 reserves established nationwide to support long-term research, water-quality monitoring, environmental education and coastal stewardship.

For information about ESF and ESNERR, and to support the conservation of Elkhorn Slough, please visit ElkhornSlough.org and CDFW Elkhorn Slough.

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Media Contacts:
Dave Feliz, CDFW Elkhorn Slough Reserve, (831) 728-2822
Scott Nichols, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, (831) 728-5939
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

Sea Otter Awareness Week is Sept. 23-29

Sept. 20, 2012
Media Contacts:

Michael Harris, DFG-OSPR Scientific Branch, (805) 772-1135
Colleen Young, DFG-OSPR Scientific Branch, (831) 469-1740
Mary Fricke, DFG-OSPR Public Affairs, 916-327-9948

Celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week with the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG)! The last full week of each September numerous organizations work to educate, inform and entertain the public with sea otter-related activities.

This year DFG is celebrating the birth of a pup to “Olive” (the once-oiled otter). This is a milestone in oiled wildlife rehabilitation because it is believed to be the first time a previously oiled sea otter in California has given birth to a pup. About half of all pups don’t make it to weaning, so scientists won’t call it a true success until this pup is a weaned, healthy thriving sea otter. DFG staff have been monitoring Olive ever since she was rescued, cleaned, rehabilitated and released in spring 2009 and will continue to do so from a safe distance, without disturbing mother and pup. DFG’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) has created a Facebook page to follow her progress (http://www.facebook.com/OlivetheOiledOtter).

Specific upcoming events related to Sea Otter Awareness Week include the following:

  • Wildlife Veterinarian Melissa Miller will make a Sea Otter Awareness Week presentation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. Dr. Miller will explain how DFG scientists use “CSI” procedures to identify the diseases, parasites and environmental problems affecting sea otters in California’s waters.
  • DFG Biologist Colleen Young will demonstrate the equipment she uses to track sea otters in Capitola from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25 and 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27. Meet her at the picnic tables at “The Hook” (the corner of East Cliff Dr. and 41st Ave.).
  • On Sept. 27, two otter lectures will be held at the Seymour Center at Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz. Stori Oates, who works for DFG and the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, will present The Land-Sea Connection: What Southern Sea Otters Can Tell Us About Coastal Health. Lectures begin at 7 p.m.

Other events celebrating the Central Coast’s most famous marine residents include free public lectures at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at Long Marine Lab in Santa Cruz (http://seymourcenter.ucsc.edu/), a kayak tour at Elkhorn Slough, and otter-themed activities at the Marine Mammal Center, California Academy of Sciences, Estuary Nature Center in Morro Bay, the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the Aquarium of the Pacific and Sea World San Diego. The Friends of the Sea Otter website provides further details and dates at http://www.seaotterweek.org/#!events/cmm9.

Sea Otter Awareness Week serves to remind people to watch out for –­ and keep their distance from ­– sea otters when boating, paddling, or surfing on the Central Coast. Be especially careful in kelp beds, as otters wrap themselves and their pups in kelp on the surface to sleep and keep from drifting away. The Marine Mammal Protection Act requires people on the water to stay far enough from the animals (at least 50 yards) to not cause them to change their behavior. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides a handbook for ocean users at http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/outreach/pdfs/wildlife_watching_handbook.pdf.

Sea otters are an indicator species – that is, their health and population reflect the health of our nearshore ecosystem, from kelp forests to fisheries. They once numbered between several hundred thousand and more than a million, worldwide. The fur trade of the 18th and 19th centuries caused sea otter populations to collapse, and by the early 1900s, the California sea otter population was thought extinct. In 1938 a small remnant population of otters was discovered off the Big Sur coast. Protection under the Endangered Species Act and the efforts of many Californians have helped increase that population, but they are far from full recovery. The 2012 spring population survey by DFG-OSPR, the U.S. Geological Survey and Monterey Bay Aquarium produced a population index of 2,792 sea otters in California. This indicates their population  growth is much slower than it should be after years of no growth and decades of slow recovery.

DFG scientists are working to identify the cause of this plateau and find solutions to get the sea otter population growing again. California taxpayers can support DFG’s sea otter program by making voluntary contributions to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410 of their state income tax returns. More information on this program is posted at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/taxcheck/.

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