Marine mammal enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest are celebrating a recent increase in sea otter sightings that appear to show conservation efforts are working.
McKenna Hanson, a naturalist with Island Adventures Whale Watching, photographed a female sea otter Sunday near the mouth of the Elwha River. The sea otter was spotted near the mouth of the Elwha River, and is the third confirmed sea otter in the Salish Sea. Sea otters are rarely spotted in the area.
Sea otters were nearly driven to extinction by fur traders from the late 1700s to early 1900s due to their desirable pelts, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The population of sea otters in the area once numbered as many as 300,000. Once the International Fur Seal Treaty officially halted hunting sea otters, efforts were made in the 60s and 70s to reintroduce sea otters to their former habitats, starting with Alaska, Canada, Washington and Oregon. Eventually, further work was also done in California.
The population of sea otters in Washington state is currently estimated at 1,000 according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and most sightings occur along the outer coast near Destruction Island and Cape Flattery.
However, sightings such as Hanson’s appear to show that otters also seem to be exploring more inland waters.
Two other sea otters have been spotted recently in and near Washington. "Odin," named by naturalist Sara Hyson-Shimazu of Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching in Friday Harbor, was spotted near the southern end of the San Juan Islands.
Distinguished by his injured left eye, he was named after a Norse God who sacrificed his eye in exchange for wisdom, according to mythology. "Ollie" was found in 2015 at the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve in the southwest area of Victoria, BC.
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