Sea Otters and Kayaks
ALL ABOUT SEA OTTERS IN BRITISH COLUMBIA
While no wildlife spotting can be guaranteed on any trip, sea otter sightings on our Kyuquot Sound trip might be our closest thing to a sure thing. This was not always the case in this area where the native sea otter population was hunted to extinction. The reason for the area’s abundance of sea otters is a Checleseht Bay sea otter reintroduction effort that began with 90 otters almost 40 years ago. Today, the sea otter population in this area is flourishing, with around 2,000 sea otters swimming in the direct vicinity of the Bunsby Islands. For more information on the sea otter re-introduction, see below.
While sea otters are one of the smallest marine mammals, they are the largest members of the weasel family. The world’s current sea otter population is a small fraction of what it once was. Historically, up to a million sea otters may have swam the oceans but since sea otter pelts were valuable in the fur trade, this number has through time been filtered drastically and today, it is likely that less than 100,000 sea otters swim the Pacific.
One of the reasons sea otter pelts were so valuable to hunters is because of the thickness of the sea otter’s fur. Rather than relying on their fat for warmth, sea otter’s rely on their fur. Consequently, there are several hundred thousand hairs per square inch on a sea otter’s coat to keep in warm.
Sea otters on average weigh a little over 50 lbs. although some Northern Pacific sea otters can tip the scales at 100 lbs. They are usually around 4 feet long and can expect to live up to 15 years if they are male, 20 if they are female. Sea otters eat 25% of their body weight in food per day; their food usually being shellfish such as mussels, urchins, clams and crabs. Sea otters eat so much that they can be blamed for depleting shellfish populations in some areas. This is considered a nuisance to those with fishing interests.
Sea otters are unique creatures because they are one of the few animals that use tools. They often use rocks to open their shellfish or pry shellfish off rocks. Although sea otters are breathing mammals, they spend most of their time in the water and are able to dive over 300-feet deep when hunting for food.
Sea otters can mate throughout the year and have a gestation period just over 6 months long. They only give birth to one or two pups at a time but given a healthy and protected environment, their population has the potential to multiply with speed. The 2,000 sea otters swimming in the Checleseht Bay, where the species was once extinct, are evidence of this.
Sea Otter Survival
Sea Otters are a very interesting and important creature in these waters and for a long time, they didn’t exist. The native sea otter population here became extinct in the 1800’s by hunters and fur traders. Between 1969 and 1972, 90 sea otters were relocated to the Checleseht Bay waters. The resident sea otter population has since flourished and paddlers can expect to see many of the estimated 2,000 sea otters while kayaking in the area.
The re-introduction of the sea otter population was important because their presence reduces the number of urchins and abalone that, in turn, eat kelp. The presence of sea otters allows kelp forests to flourish and these forests act as nurseries to young fish. While the sea otter re-introduction process has positively affected marine life and fishing interests, it has simultaneously hurt First Nations harvesting interests by depleting the local shellfish population.