Observation by Allan Crow:
I've spent my entire adult life fishing and diving for a living around Southern Vancouver Island. On Sept. 1st, 2014 I observed a Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris) in local waters for the first time. Sightings are not common and Sea Otters are infrequent visitors to Southern Vancouver Island. The Sea Otter was observed over several days actively feeding near Possession Point in Sooke BC, diving to 60 ft of depth, and recovering large Dungeness Crabs.
Interestingly, a video was posted on Youtube on Aug 14, 2014, showing a solitary wild Sea Otter approaching and interacting with sunbathers on a popular beach in Victoria BC (Cadboro Bay). There was a news article published in the local paper, the Times Colonist, on August 16, 2014, with photographs of a Sea Otter, which was observed actively feeding on Red Rock Crab at Ten Mile Point, which is within 1 km distance of where the 'beach' sighting took place on Aug 14, 2014. This lead me to believe that the two sightings might have been the same otter that was observed by the sunbathers at Cadboro Bay. Solitary Sea Otters appearing on Southern Vancouver Island are likely migrants from an established colony located off Cape Flattery in Washington State at the south western entrance to Juan de Fuca Strait. All other established colonies would seem to be too far away.
Comment by Tom Okey of Ocean Integrity Research:
Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) were extirpated from almost their entire range in the North Pacific by a Russian Fur Trade beginning in the mid-1700s, which utilized and re-located people from Northern First Nations communities. By 1911, this Fur Trade left only small remnant populations of individuals that successfully hid from the hunters (Figure 1). The slow growth and expansion of Sea Otters populations from these remnant areas did not became noticeable to the scientific community until the late 1900s. The otter observed by Mr. Crow, and the other sightings he described during 2014, may be the vanguard of a re-colonization of the southern part of Vancouver Island. In 2007, I observed a solitary Sea Otter foraging in the surf zone at Brady's Beach at Bamfield, BC, which is the south edge of Barkley Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. At that time, that observation represented the expanding southernmost frontier of the sea otter range on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Although the coast between Barkley Sound and Sooke includes much exposed outer coast, it would not be surprising that Sea Otters arrived in Victoria seven years later in 2014. The alternative hypothesis described by Mr. Crow that they arrived from Cape Flattery in Washington State, by migrating across the Juan de Fuca Strait, is also plausible.
Additional comment by Allan Crow:
Yes, I agree Barkley is certainly possible…but don’t discount Flattery…with the prevailing westerly winds and the flood tide pushing them along it’s not that far away. They find the odd dead one washed up here in Sooke, so wherever they are coming from... it’s a perilous and incredible journey. That video is pretty unique!!
Comment by Dr. Jane Watson:
There have certainly been quite a few single animals sighted through southern BC - right up to Quadra Island on the Salish Sea. There was also a sea otter that was jumping on stand up paddle boards off of VIctoria a couple of years ago. Probably the best person to speak with is Linda Nichol who can give you a more up to date picture of the various extra-limital sightings of sea otters. Young males seem to go walk about and show up in some of the oddest places - although Sooke and Point no Point are pretty nice spots for otters. The whale watchers in Barkley Sound have had a trapline of 4-5 sea otters for years that they seem to be able to reliably find for guests. You are correct to speculate that they could be illegal migrants from the US. Brian Gisborne finds them well offshore quite often on his whale surveys for DFO. - Dr. Jane Watson, Vancouver Island University.
Sea Otter video at Cadbrio Bay.
Elkhorn Slough Otter Cam
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