This special week is an annual recognition of the vital role that sea otters play in the nearshore ecosystem!
This mammal is one of the best illustrations of a keystone species! A keystone species is when their presence is vital for maintaining numbers and diversity of other species, which makes their role exceptional in the ecosystem.
The elimination of a keystone species from an ecosystem causes a set of negative changes. One such example is the overpopulation of one species, which leads to disappearance of other species.
They keep the population of certain sea floor herbivores, particularly sea urchins, in check. Sea urchins graze on the lower stems of kelp, causing the kelp to drift away and die.
Loss of the habitat and nutrients provided by kelp forests leads to a cascade effect on the marine ecosystem. North Pacific areas that do not have sea otters often turn into urchin barrens, with plentiful sea urchins and no kelp forest.
Kelp forests are extremely productive ecosystems. Kelp forests absorb and capture CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.
Curious where to see sea otters in state parks?
The best times of the year to sight otters are in the winter and spring. To stay protected from rough weather out to sea, sea otters will gravitate to areas sheltered from wind, coves and near inshore kelp forests.
- Moss Landing State Beach — Here you can spot sea otters swimming in Elkhorn Slough. The best time is during low tides that cycle through in the morning or evening. If you rent a kayak you will be able to get up even closer and glide alongside them!
- Andrew Molera State Park — For views and sea otters try the Bluffs Trail. It is 1.7 miles one-way along the cliffs and overlooks the ocean, coves, and kelp. The highest likelihood for sightings tend to be on the southern end, near the kelp.
- Point Lobos State Natural Reserve — The best areas for sightings are on the south side of the reserve. The best views are on the Bird Island Trail to beautiful China Cove.
Happy sea otter watching!