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01 October 2023 - Sea Otter Awareness Week 2023

Submitted by: Callum

Sea Otter Awareness Week 2023 (Sunday 24th September - Saturday 30th September) is now complete! A driving force for the awareness of these otters is the group Sea Otter Savvy. To help us learn more about Sea otters Heather Barrett, from the group, has very kindly agreed to answer some of our questions and give us an insight into the world of Sea Otter Savvy!

SOAW 23 logo

* Meet Heather Barrett! *

Heather Barrett - Sea Otter Savvy

Heather’s interest in Sea otter conservation and ecology has developed through her undergraduate degree at UC Santa Cruz, internship through the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and graduate research at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. As the Science Communication Director, Heather refines science communication strategies, oversees creation and promotion of science-related materials, leads science-related media relations, and develops special projects for outreach that will support Sea Otter Savvy’s mission. As the Research Scientist, Heather will continue her research interests in human disturbance to Sea otters.

Sea Otter Savvy is a research and outreach program dedicated to Sea otter conservation and recovery. They promote stewardship in communities, educate on Sea otter history and recovery, and reduce human-Sea otter conflict.

Sea Otter - Ingrid Taylar

Sea otter - Ingrid Taylar for Sea Otter Awareness Week 2023

IOSF: The introduction gives away what species you work with - but we'd love to know, what inspired you to help conserve Sea otters?

Heather: I became inspired to help conserve Sea otters as a high school student. I was interested in community ecology and their keystone role, and dreamt of what it would be like to see them in historical habitats where they are still missing, like San Francisco Bay where I grew up.


IOSF: Much of your work is with people, and helping encourage them not to get too close, and therefore disturb otters. Can you tell us a little more about this work, why it is important and do you feel people, in general, understand the importance of your message?

Heather: We want communities to feel a sense of stewardship and become active participants in protecting their neighbors - because that's what Sea otters are - they are part of the greater community. Disturbance mitigation in the past was always focused on the animal's behavior and trying to alter the animal's behavior. When the reality is, it's human behavior that needs to be altered and to allow wildlife to remain wild. Getting people to change is difficult but not impossible - it takes outreach, education, and engagement.


IOSF: What more do you feel can be done to help the otters?

Heather: It is critical we build a sense of stewardship within communities and provide them with a strong foundation of awareness of Sea otter behavior, biology, and ecology. This is important for communities with Sea otters, but just as important for the communities missing Sea otters along the historical range. To reach full recovery the southern Sea otter needs these communities to be aware of what they are missing and become active participants in the discussions surrounding potential reintroduction. That is why we started the We Were Here Sea otter program - to reach communities and stakeholders and have them share their voices.

Sea Otter - Linda Dron

Sea otters resting - Linda Dron Photography for Sea Otter Awareness Week 2023

IOSF: What do you feel is most misunderstood about otters?

Heather: That they are just cute. Truth is that word comes with a cost. Yes Sea otters are charismatic but to simply see them as cute is an injustice to their critical role in the nearshore ecological community. They are large weasels - and come with weasel personalities. They are pugnacious, curious, territorial, and can be dangerous - their cousin is the wolverine! I think the term kelp grizzly is a good description.


IOSF: What is the best/worst question you've ever been asked about otters?

Heather: Being asked about Sea otters holding paws can get a bit old since I have to myth bust the fact. It's something that has spread through social media and is deemed a Sea otter 'fact;' however it is not a Sea otter behavior likely seen in the wild - not to be attributed with all Sea otters. They are physically capable, but It is incredibly rare in the wild. Most sightings are from Sea otters in captivity. Rather Sea otters wrap in kelp to be anchored to the bottom so they don't float away.


IOSF: Lastly, What has been your favourite/funniest otter 'moment'?

Heather: I was on a 2 hour focal follow of a female with a midsized pup and as the mom kept trying to sleep, the pup would wait until she closed her eyes before biting her whiskers. This happened a few times before the mom rolled and dunked the pup. It was amusing to see how a Sea otter mom would deal with 'toddler' behaviour.

Sea Otter - Jeff and Wendy Photography

Sea otter - Jeff and Wendy Photography for Sea Otter Awareness Week 2023

A huge thank you to Heather for answering our questions, and we really hope that Sea Otter Awareness Week continues to be a success for many years to come, leading to a brighter future for the species!


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