Wood can look like rocks. Rocks can look like wood. Seaweed and kelp can look like ropes, or ribbon, string, or thread and sometimes old hoses. As it dries it can look like wood or leather. Old, rusty iron gets carved and cut by the sea and sand to resemble rocks. Each day is different as the tides come and go washing in and washing away what the water carries in and out.
This river otter was photographed yesterday afternoon in the San Juan archipelago.
Instead of blubber for insulation, sea otters have 250,000 to a million hairs per square inch.
I thought since I was seeing an otter in the sea, it would be a sea otter. I also thought a river otter would be an otter found only in non-salt water. I was wrong. What I now have photographed twice this past week is a river otter. Sea otters float on their backs and have shorter tails. Both are relatives of the weasel.
River otters spend two-thirds of their time on land. They will make at least one permanent den on land, near the water, in addition to several temporary shelters. They are adept at being on land unlike the clumsy and rather awkward moving sea otter, who seldom spends 95% of their time in the water.
Sea otters are active during the day while river otters are nocturnal. River otters are often solitary creatures. When they are seen together, it would likely be a family unit such as a mother with her young.
Sea otters are a keystone species and, as predators, are critical to maintaining the balance of the near-shore kelp ecosystems. "Without sea otters, the undersea animals they prey on would devour the kelp forests off the coast that provide cover and food for many other marine animals." ~ Defenders of Wildlife
Sea otters have high metabolisms and need to eat 25% of their body weight daily. They consume over 45 marine species including urchins, abalone, mussels, clams, crabs, and snails.
There was a time when there several hundred thousand to a million sea otters until the fur trade slashed the number to fewer than 2,000 by the early 1900's.
The 1980's were hard on populations due to oil spills. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in particular, in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, killed several thousand sea otters. The oil ruins their fur's ability to keep warm enough in the frigid waters, as well as being toxic. Many died from hypothermia. Estimates put the current worldwide population at only around 106,000.
It took the Endangered Species Act — under which sea otters gained protection in 1977 — for a recovery to begin in earnest. "The saving of the sea otter," writes Glenn Vanblaricom of the University of Washington in his book on the animal, "is indeed one of the great success stories in marine conservation."
In addition to oil spills, there are other threats to sea otters.
Some shell fishers view sea otters as competition and a threat to their economic gain because otters like the same kind of food humans do and both fish in the same waters. Many fishermen use fishing gear that can entangle sea otters and cause them to drown. I met a man recently who talked about having to clean his boat because the otters like to sit on when it's stored. He said he'll shoot one the next time one makes too much of a nuisance.
Sea otters are often contaminated with toxic pollutants and disease-causing parasites as a result of runoff in coastal waters. "Scientists have also reported the accumulation of man-made chemicals, such as PCBs and PBDEs, at some of the highest levels ever seen in marine mammals." ~ Defenders of Wildlife
River otters will birth up to six babies in one litter. The average is half that. Sea otters have one baby and go longer between births. They give birth in the water, while river otters have their babies on land. Sea otter babies are more developed at birth with eyes open and teeth already emerging. River otters are much more helpless. They are blind when born and have no signs of teeth.
They are one of the few mammals who use tools. They will use a rock to break open a shell or use something to pry it open.
This guy found a good scratching stone.
This little songbird frequents the tree next to my deck. He is so fast that it takes much patience, and many shots to capture him clearly without leaves in the way or being out of focus. Their short beaks make them able to pluck tiny insects from trees quite adeptly.
Ohh .. such a lovely bird. This little guy hit my window on a departure flight and I'm trying to save him. I think he might have too severely injured his neck though. I have him in a cloth, resting. He can only flap one wing and doesn't seem able to hold his head up. It's so sad.
UPDATE OCT 28, 2018. I called the water taxi I use and the owner readily agreed to take the bird from my island to Anacortes. He would even have driven the bird to his next destination, but another volunteer agreed to pick him up at the harbor and deliver the bird to another volunteer who will escort the bird on a ferry to Friday Harbor. Since 9/11, only officially recognized volunteers can make arrangements with other people boarding a ferry to find someone who will officially travel with the "package". From there, another volunteer meets the ferry and gets the bird to the rehab specialist. The little bird's neck is injured. He can't hold his head upright much. He made it overnight, but still not ready to live on his own. He took some water. I was told with this type of bird, an unknowing person could drown him trying to give him water. His throat doesn't close off when he's had enough. It's better to put a lid of water next to him and let him go to the water.
I hope he gets a second chance at life. Fingers crossed.
I got word that this little guy didn't make it. He died on the boat ride to Anacortes. So sad.