MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. — Elkhorn Slough is one of California's largest wetland estuaries. It is a protected research area near Moss Landing in Monterey County and home to more than 700 animal species and countless ocean rearing plants.
It’s also home to the southern sea otter, Elkhorn Slough is swarming with them. Andrea Hammond is a naturalist with Elkhorn Slough Safari. It's her job to guide tourists to the otters and explain why there are so many of them in this area.
"I've heard there's about 140 of them. That's the highest concentration of southern sea otters in the world," said Hammond.
Although the number of otters at Elkhorn Slough may not seem like a lot, it is. The southern sea otter has had it rough because of hunters in the 1700s and 1800s. Otter fur was invaluable because of its dense thermal property. It's estimated that the fur can grow 1 million hairs per square inch which means it’s very warm.
"Unfortunately, it was a very profitable thing for fur traders to get a hold of and we really did a number on them. We brought them to near extinction number," said Hammond.
Sea otters were first given protection in 1911. Since then, biologists have been rehabilitating the fuzzy animals and they've been on a slow rebound.
"There's not a lot in the world. About 3,200 from Half Moon Bay down to Santa Barbara," said Hammond.
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Southern sea otters normally migrate, but Elkhorn Slough is unique in the fact that these otters seem to stay in the slough.
"Mainly because the researchers from the aquarium rehabilitated the otters [and] releas[ed] them here," said Hammond.
Thanks to the rehabilitation efforts, visitors have ample opportunity to see and observe otters. If you are lucky you may even get to see them eat their favorite food...clams.
"It helps to have a tool, so they will grab a rock, put it on their chest then take the clam and smash it open and get the stuff inside," said Hammond.
More than 700 species call Elkhorn Slough home. It's a testament to conservation efforts and a safe haven for all animals.
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