Elkhorn Slough Foundation
For immediate release
May 6, 2011
The Stork Visits Elkhorn Slough
The morning of April 27th offered a rare and inspiring sight for Robert Scoles and Nichole Rodriguez. The two were collecting marine mammal data for use by the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve’s joint effort—the Tidal Wetland Project—and for Okeanis, when one of the animals they had been monitoring began to act very strangely.
The solitary otter had been hauled out on a mudbank—a common behavior for Southern sea otters in the Elkhorn Slough—when she entered the water and began to roll around. As her frenzied activity continued, the water around her began to turn red. “When I saw her in distress, and saw the blood, I thought she might be injured,” said Scoles. ”But then she reached down and retrieved a small otter pup. I just couldn’t believe what I’d seen.”
In the tidal channels of Yampah Island, just outside of the Parsons Slough Complex in the Elkhorn Slough, there have been a few unusual observations since monitoring began in 2009. Sometimes monitors see the otters walking or even running on land. Other times otters appear to be playing with the native birds in the area, stroking them like pets. However, it is unheard of for humans to witness the birth of a wild otter with their own eyes.
As soon as her pup was born, the otter began grooming it like any good mother would, while also munching down the nutrient rich placenta and afterbirth. “She groomed him for about a half hour before hauling out again,” reported Rodriguez. “She spent a good amount of time cleaning him and holding him up in the air, performing the usual post-birth cleaning procedures to make sure the pup was healthy.” Rodriguez was able to hold her phone up to one of the viewing scopes to take some unobtrusive footage of the scene.
Just an hour and a half after being born, the pup began trying to nurse and was taken back to the water with mom, where he had his first meal. A few hours later the other otters in the area took notice of the new otter and made a protective circle around the pair.
The slough’s newest addition is easy to identify, with its light reddish coloring and a distinct, circle like tan mark on each cheek. Since the pup’s sex is still unknown it is fondly being called Andi—short for androgynous—around the Elkhorn Slough.
Monitors have been observing marine mammals in the Parsons Slough for a little over a year now as part of an ongoing study by Okeanis to document marine mammal use of tidal wetlands. The monitoring includes documenting sea otter and harbor seal activities, counting marine mammals in the area, and noting the location of the mammals every half hour. The study compliments efforts by the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve and Elkhorn Slough Foundation to track marine mammal usage of the Parsons Slough Complex after the completion of a tidal wetland restoration project there. The restoration was designed to reduce erosion in Elkhorn Slough without impacting the local wildlife. Monitoring will continue until this winter.
To see footage of the newborn pup, you can visit www.elkhornslough.org.
The Elkhorn Slough and its surrounding hills and valleys is an incredibly diverse ecosystem featuring the expansive tracts of saltwater marshes, oak woodlands, working farms, and the plant and wildlife that inhabit these regions. The slough has been the focal point for innovative and cutting-edge research, conservation and education programs.
The Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve is one of 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves established nationwide as field laboratories for scientific research and estuarine education. The Reserve is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by the California Department of Fish and Game.
The Elkhorn Slough Foundation, the nonprofit partner to the Reserve, established in 1982, is the only community-supported organization wholly dedicated to conserving and restoring Elkhorn Slough and its watershed. ESF owns or manages nearly 4,000 acres, or nearly nine percent of the watershed. For more information, visit www.elkhornslough.org
Okeanis, established in 2006, is a local non-profit engaged in sea otter and coastal bottle nosed dolphin studies. Okeanis works to promote the knowledge and skills necessary to manage and maintain functional marine ecosystems through technical training, capacity building, research and information sharing. You can learn more about their work at www.okeanis.org
This clip shows the new pup just minutes after it was born. Between 0:20 and 0:44 monitors Robert Scoles and Nichole Rodriguez discus what they see.
This clip shows the mom/pup pair being noticed by a third otter, who then retrieves more otters to form a protective circle around the two. Interesting points include:
0:00 – mother holding pup in the air to clean it
0:19 – the pair are noticed by a third otter, who seems excited at the new addition
0:49 – a new otter swims up
1:05 – another mom/pup pair joins in, then the three new otters disappear for a bit
2:52 – another otter returns briefly
3:30 – five otters begin to circle up