Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sea Otters on Kachemak Bay

 Alaska 2014 continued:

Going to Alaska was a dream come true. There's no question that Alaska, and the northern latitudes in general, are our most wild lands. When I signed up for the trip I was excited to see birds, but I was also hoping that I would see much more. The trip did not disappoint.

Shortly after we left the marina in Homer we could see several rafts of some critter floating near the north shore of Kachemak Bay. We were too far away for me to tell what they were, but I overheard Captain Karl mention they were sea otters.

No way. No way! I was so excited, yet bummed that they were so far away and that we were not moving in that direction.

Several rafts of sea otters float offshore.

But within 10 minutes, a dark shape appeared off our starboard side. I got the camera on it and began shooting. It finally looked our way before diving under the water.

My first up-close sea otter!

A few minutes later another one appeared--or maybe the same one?

And then this, much closer to the boat, laying on its back in the water, doing its otter thing.

We drifted closer, and we watched each other with fascination. The boat listed to starboard as everyone crowded around to get a look.

Oh my.

Here are some sea otter facts, as presented by Defenders of Wildlife: Sea otters live in near-shore environments in the northern Pacific, from Japan and up the Russian coast over to Alaska and down to northern California. They eat 1/4 of their body weight each day to support their high metabolism. The largest member of the weasel family, they have the densest fur of any animal, which is what keeps them warm--they do not have a layer of blubber. They must spend a great deal of time maintaining that coat. Their fur is thinnest on their feet, so when they are floating in the water they hold their feet up to keep them warm and maintain overall body temperature.

Sea otters are a keystone species, meaning they maintain good ecological balance of their habitat. Without otters eating the things that eat kelp, the things that eat near-shore kelp beds would multiply exponentially and wipe out the kelp. The kelp provides shelter and food for many other animals, so keeping a healthy population of sea otters protects the environment.

We made our way farther out into the bay and out of the shelter of Homer Spit. The breeze picked up a bit and the water got a little choppier. We saw the pair of Aleutian Terns on their log and then, on our port side, we came upon this pair, a mother with a pup. We could not have asked for a better view.

We floated alongside them, not more than 20 feet away. Mom held junior's head in her paws, and occasionally groomed the pup's head and neck.

It was absolutely a dream come true.

There are some things--many, many things--I never expected to see, never really thought I'd have the opportunity to experience. This was one of those things. To see these adorable creatures in their natural environment, to be out on the water on a cool, sunny day surrounded by snow-topped mountains with a group of like-minded people all in awe of what we were seeing.... This was one of my best experiences.

Next: Day 5 is not done! From Homer we travel to Seward, do a bit of birding in the evening, and prepare for a day on Resurrection Bay.

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