I sat down to catch up with the new series of Natural World on BBC2 this week and was completely moved by this touching tale of a mother sea otter who had decided to give birth to her daughter not in some sheltered cove amongst the kelp beds, but on the private slip of a millionaire’s marina in Monterey Bay.
The programme showed the ingenuity of the mother who adapted quickly to the new environment, but also the new dangers she and her cub faced, as well as the same trials they would encounter as other otters such as the violent male whose territory they live in.
What the Natural World programmes do better than anything else is show the connection between people and animals, often on an individual basis. I was hooked as soon as I saw the fluffy cub floundering on the slipway and felt the same anxiety and relief the film maker and story-teller did as we explored the first six months of the cubs life and her relationship with her mother. It was spell-binding.
It was though, disheartening to hear some fishermen and boat owners talking about the sea otters as pests. This is an animal on the endangered list, that was wiped out by an out of control fur trade by the end of the 19th century. A tiny population of 60 animals were discovered in a secluded cove in California in 1911 and their numbers have fluctuated since then to their current levels of about 2,600. Numbers have declined for the last two years, so it is still a nervous time for the sea otter and the population is by no means safe or stable.
It is highly unlikely that a population of 2,600 (for the whole of California) is making an impact on the fishery markets. The only animal that has devastated the seas around California is man, and it is overfishing that has destroyed fish stocks. Clever conversation that supports both people and animals can and does work, but eyes need to be opened to it first. No fish zones have been shown to work, but the west is too greedy to even consider them. It’s a shame that the cornerstone of western civilisation can’t show itself to be as in tune as places like the Maldives where such projects have seen an increase in both fish stocks on the edge of reserves and healthy populations of species within them.
Incidentally, it is estimated that each sea otter is worth $6.1 million in tourist dollars for the duration of its life. Surely with that in mind, some kind of compensation can be offered to boat owners who experience damage to their boats (watch the film to see how!). Or perhaps some kind of assistance can be offered to the otters in the marina – surfaces and tools that will help them to open shellfish without the aid of boat hulls. It really can’t be that hard to accomodate a few otters. One boat owner even complained about being woken up by sea otters using the boat as a shell cracker. Enjoy the experience of being close to an endangered animal I say! It’s the marina that comes with everything, even endangered species on tap. Regardless of what money you have paid, it’s their playground that we have dredged, polluted, raided and made more dangerous for them. It was never ours.
I am of course biased as otters are my favourite animals and Monterey Bay is one of my must-visit places. Maybe I will go next year, but for now, the Natural World was a great escape for an hour.