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City Sea Otters Live Better Than Their Country Cousins [Slide Show]

By doggedly tracking California sea otters, marine biologists learn that sea otters often face bigger challenges than human pollution

By Nsikan Akpan

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URBAN SHADOW:

Human development in Monterey, Calif., looms over the nearshore marine ecosystem of the city’s namesake bay, illustrating the high potential for anthropogenic—man-made—environmental stress.....[ More ]

CLEAR, OPEN WATERS:

Dusk settles on the pristine waters near Black Square Rock in Big Sur, Calif., the “country” site examined in the “city v. country” otter study.
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OTTER CHECKUP:

Veterinarians from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, both collaborators on the otter study, examine a sedated southern sea otter, performing health checkups and taking biopsies before release back into the wild.....[ More ]

TOUGH PAWS:

The thickly padded front paws of a sedated wild sea otter display how the marine mammals are adapted to handle sharp crab shells and sea urchin spines. Sea otters are benthic predators, meaning they collect most of their food from the seafloor.....[ More ]

SLEEK FLIPPERS:

The hind paws of sea otters are adapted into swimming flippers, such as on this sedated wild sea otter.
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THE LOOKOUTS:

Biologists track tagged sea otters among the aquatic kelp forests near Big Sur. After hunting for food along the seafloor otters return to the surface and lunch while floating on their backs. Researchers used binoculars to spot and record the otters’ food choices.....[ More ]

CITY LIVING:

A sea otter swims in Monterey Bay. A team of 25 marine biologists, veterinarians and epidemiologists teamed to compare the “city” otters of Monterey with “country” otters inhabiting the pristine waters near Big Sur.....[ More ]

FLOATING THE DAY AWAY:

A sea otter swims in Monterey Bay.
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SHIPS AHOY!:

A sea otter navigates through the boats of Monterey Bay Harbor.
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“I WANT SOME!”:

A sea otter pup watches eagerly as its mother eats a fat innkeeper worm in Monterey Bay. Finding enough food to eat is one of the biggest survival challenges for female otters and represents one reason why otters inhabiting human-dominated Monterey Bay live better than otters swimming the more pristine waters off Big Sur.....[ More ]

“WAITER, THE CRAB PLEASE.”:

A sea otter floats on its back while dining on a crab in Monterey Bay. As a species, sea otters eat a wide variety of benthic—seafloor—invertebrates but individually they mainly subsist one or two types of prey.....[ More ]

BEEP BEEP:

U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist Alisha Kage holds out a VHF (very high frequency) receiver, hoping to hear the telltale beep that helps her locate radio-tagged sea otters.....[ More ]

OTTER SPOTTING:

Kage looks through a telescope to locate and identify tagged sea otters. Once spotted, she records the otter's location for the Big Sur versus Monterey study.
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