“Morro Bay snubs sea otters” reads the headline from New Times (Aug. 11). We don’t understand the opposition to Sea Otter Awareness Week by the Morro Bay Commercial Fisherman’s Association and the Morro Bay City Council.
The California otter population (not to be confused with the northern Pacific subspecies found from Washington to Alaska) stands at about 2,700 and is growing very slowly. Their diet includes abalone, Dungeness crabs, and sea urchins, along with snails, worms, clams, and other shellfish. Some of these are useful for human consumption.
But the otters play an important role in maintaining a healthy coastal environment for fish. Their preference for sea urchins keeps the urchin population in check. Urchins are herbivores of kelp; their over-population can easily destroy vital kelp forests, which serve as nurseries for a large variety of fish. The science behind this is clear. (See Science, vol. 333, p. 301 or Smithsonian, September, 2011, p. 90 and references therein.)
The relatively small California otter population should be celebrated and promoted for reasons far more important than the amusement of tourists. Their presence is an indication of a healthy coastal environment that favors both fishermen and visitors alike.