Sea Otters

For several days this week, these two tiny sea otter siblings were floating around on their mom’s belly in Morro Bay, in central California. Alternately nursing and being groomed, or occasionally floating beside her, the little furballs are a rare pair: Roughly 2 percent of sea otter pregnancies result in the birth of more than one pup.

The odds that both will survive are even longer.

“We know it’s kind of inevitable. A mom cannot raise two pups,” said Michelle Staedler, sea otter research coordinator for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program.

Normally, sea otters only give birth to one pup at a time. The first twin otters (.pdf) were only reported in 1986. Now, this pair has brought scientists and photographers to the chilly Morro Bay waters, straining pairs of eyes hoping to glimpse and study the otters as they rest and float near the kelp forests.

“They’re pretty rare situations,” Staedler said. “This is the fourth one that I know of.”

[MORE: Tiny Sea Otter Siblings Fight the Odds]

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the last week of september is sea otter awareness weekwhere most marine mammals rely on a layer of insulating blubber to keep warm in the water, sea otters make use of their dense fur coat.

in fact, their fur is so thick and soft that for centuries humans have hunted the animal. by 1929, sea otters had been virtually eradicated from alaska to california. and while populations of the animal are currently making a remarkable comeback in british columbia, they nevertheless remain an endangered species.  

sea otters play a vital role in their aquatic ecosystem. in the absence of the animal, sea urchin populations explode, leading to the eradication of kelp forests, which in turn affects fish, sea birds and even eagle populations.

photos by tom and pat leeson (peekaboo otter), veronica craft (vogue otter), hal beral (sleepy otter), brian maxwell (cuddling albino otter), jeff foot (super excited screaming otter), matt maran (shouting otter), joe robertson (holding hands otters) and sharon landis (baby photo pose otter) suzi eszterhas (happy otter)

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"Dear Sir,

I am very sorry but I am very mad about the oil spill. It is killing nature. And it is killing the sea otters. It makes me very sad because my class is doing a report on sea otters. And sea otters are cute. Sea otters are an endangered species. Please clean up the oil spill.

Sincerely,

Kelli Middlestead.
Mrs. Ashley - 2nd grade
Franklin School”

Letter from Kelli Middlestead from the Franklin School, Burlingame, California to Walter Stieglitz the Regional Director of the Alaska Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 04/13/1989

From the series: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Correspondence, 1989 - 1991. Records of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Twenty-five years ago today the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling over 250,000 barrels of crude oil and causing one of the worst oil spills and natural disasters in U.S. history.

This 2nd grade student’s letter to usfws is possibly our favorite record ever, but it’s especially bittersweet considering the magnitude of the disaster.

What are your memories of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill?

Exxon Valdez — 25 Years Later

When the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Alaska 25 years ago, the Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter team was among the first responders to the March 24, 1989 disaster. We were the only institution on the West Coast with experience rescuing and raising ill and orphaned sea otters, and we played a central role in setting up two emergency centers that cleaned and cared for surviving otters. (Between 1,000 and 5,500 sea otters died in the spill.)

We also brought two orphaned pups to Monterey (similar to the pup shown above) and raised them until they found homes at the Vancouver Aquarium.

This year, the sea otter population in Prince William Sound was finally declared recovered from the effects of the spill. For other species, the picture hasn’t been as rosy. A resident killer whale population may go extinct; the pigeon guillemot seabirds found in the region and a once-robust herring fishery have not bounced back.

We may finally know why.

New research on crude oil impacts

There’s new evidence, published this year by our partners at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, that for the first time pinpoints significant long-term impacts from crude oil on ocean wildlife. Their published studies, conducted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, document how crude oil affects the developing hearts of larval fishes caught in spills. They also show a possible link between compounds in oil and long-term risks to cardiac health in many animals exposed to the compounds – including sea otters and even humans.

Even before we opened our doors to the public in 1984, the Aquarium began caring for stranded and orphaned California sea otters. Today, 30 years later, we’re more involved than ever – and in more ways than ever – on behalf of a future with healthy oceans.

A sobering reminder

The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill is a sobering reminder of how much is at stake.

It’s also a reminder that we can make a difference: if we’re prepared to respond, if we invest in scientific research to understand long-term impacts, and when we work for policies that protect key species and critical ocean ecosystems.

The Aquarium is active on all these fronts – and working just as hard to inspire new generations who will give a voice to ocean issues. We couldn’t do it without your help.

Learn more about our ocean conservation programs.

Donate to support our ocean conservation work.