Gorgonian coral lunch for a sea otter.

Location: Inian Islands, Icy Strait, southeast Alaska
The Inian Islands are loaded with sea otters.  Local residents in nearby Elfin Cove tell me that sea otters were re-introduced to this area in the mid 1980’s with animals transplanted from other areas.   The original population was of course wiped out by hunters and fur traders in the late 18th century because of the immense popularity and value of sea otter pelts.   I’m told that sea otter fur contains over 1,000,000 hairs per square inch which is how they remain insulated and able to live in cold water.  There is no doubt that sea otter fur is amazingly soft and plush.  The difficulty is that while sea otters appear super cute and cuddly, they are in fact rapacious predators who hunt and destroy  and wipe out other animals in their environment.   Just ask any aquarist or zoo keeper for their opinion of sea otters!!   For example, those same residents in Elfin Cove tell me that the abalone and clams have been all but wiped in this area as the sea otter population became re-established.   We often see them floating very cutely on their backs and swimming along with the occasional flick of one foot as they much down on various foods placed and held on their tummies  ie.  sea urchin, small fish, chunks of salmon, octopus and even basket stars..   Today took the cake though (please pardon the bad pun).    We were on our way back from diving Inian Wall when we noticed a sea otter swimming along, taking big bites of an orangey-red mass. What the heck!!  It was really hard to see what it was eating and of course we didn’t want to get too close and (a) cause the animal any distress and (b) violate the marine mammal watching guidelines.   The little guy finally dropped a chunk in the water and we idled over to see what it was.   Hard to believe but the sea otter was eating a gorgonian coral fan!!!   Not sure what the nutritional value is of gorgonian coral but this particular sea otter certainly seemed to be enjoying it!!   I’m hoping it was a special treat and that the large fields of beautiful gorgonian coral that we see while scuba diving are not under threat.  Cheers.  Captain Mike.
Weather: Mix of low cloud and fogbanks with beautiful blue skies and sunshine in the middle of the day.  Temperature high 60’s.  Calm seas.  Calm winds..
Water: Water temperature 46 degrees.   Very low visibility of 10 feet on Inian Wall (but lots of sealions) and 15 – 20 feet on Wall of Life

By Nautilus Staff

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