It’s Sea Otter Awareness Week, and to spread appreciation for the smallest and fluffiest marine mammal, the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History will host a free pop-up at Lighthouse Point. On Friday and Saturday from 10am to 2pm, visitors can watch otters through spotting scopes along West Cliff, take closer looks at the museum’s specimens and talk to experts.
“The pop-ups are about accessibility and connecting people to nature right here in their backyard,” says Kiersten Elzy-Loving, the development and community partnerships manager at the museum.
“As more people are spending time in the water, there’s more interaction between humans and wildlife,” she says. “We want to make sure that it’s positive interaction and respectful interaction.”
Museum staff hopes the fun facts visitors learn about otters will help them want to protect the endangered species.
Sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900s for their thick fur. With up to a million hairs per inch, they have the densest coats of any mammal. An international treaty halted commercial hunting in 1911, but the fuzzy marine mammals still face a long road to recovery.
Their rebound will also help kelp forests. Otters eat around a fourth of their body weight per day, and their voracious appetite for sea urchins and other kelp-grazers helps keep the ecosystem in balance.
“The most important thing that we’re hoping people will take away from it is that it sea otters are this wonderful cornerstone in our kelp forest health,” says Elzy-Loving.
At the pop-up, museum staff will teach visitors how to spot otters and “[encourage] people to get out in the water and have a respectful and safely socially-distant interaction with our furry mammals of the sea,” says Elzy-Loving. “It’s a wonderful way to learn more about where we live.”