Otterly Unexpected

June 11, 2021

Carmel, CA, USA

A southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) glides through the kelp forest in search of a salted snack.

I went out for a photoshoot and happened to pass by the dive site's Reef Check temperature logger that day, one of the many underwater sensors that we maintain as part of our climate change monitoring research. Noticing that the zip ties securing it to its bolt had loosened, I took a moment to put the camera down and tighten them up.

The wiggling ties attracted the attention of a cabezon, a large, bulky-headed sculpin, that I had been photographing a few minutes earlier, and it swooped in to investigate the situation on an adjacent reef ledge. I picked up the camera to take a photo of it, but the fish suddenly spooked and dove deep under a rocky overhang. The hasty retreat struck me as odd; I hadn't made any abrupt movements. Wondering if something else was lurking around, I turned to scope out my vast blind spot... And there, splayed out on the reef right by my elbow, was a soggy, brown shag pillow.

My mind couldn't make sense of it at first. It was so... Rectangular. Is it a long-lost rug? It's so clean and poofy though. Baby sea lion...? But it's so small and the fur so long. Is it... Dead? Then it suddenly lifted its head from the crevice it was hanging in - SEA OTTER!

It took me a moment to remember that I was holding a camera, but I managed to fire off a few shots as it looked up and took off twisting and turning above the reef. It nimbly dove through the rocks looking for prey before somersaulting into the water column and buoying up to the surface.


The sea otter was at no point approached for these photographs - the images were captured from a fixed position as the otter began foraging nearby on its own.

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