By Story and photography by Isabelle Groc
Sea otters have made a remarkable comeback off the coast of British Columbia. That’s great news for the otters — and a big adjustment for many others
Only 20 minutes after leaving the Tofino harbour, Nichol, a marine mammal biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, spots her first otter — a single male off Vargas Island. She makes a note of the time so she can later connect the location to the sighting.
Despite her years of experience taking the pulse of sea otter population trends, Nichol says these furry, charismatic marine mammals can be surprisingly hard to find. It’s easy to mistake their small, shiny heads on the surface of the water for a piece of kelp or a harbour seal. Sometimes, they’re impossible to see behind the waves as boats and animals rise and fall with the swell of the sea.
At least Nichol has a good idea of where to look. Once sea otters discover suitable habitat, they tend to stay and do not move much over their lifetime. “When heading out for a sea otter survey, I always look forward to checking in on them, like old friends,” Nichol says. “Finding them in their old haunts, wondering how they have all fared over the winter.”