Sea otters sighted off Langara Island

  • Jul. 9, 2013 1:00 p.m.

A sea otter sighting off Langara Island at the northwest corner of Haida Gwaii has captured the interest of biologists, as the elusive mammals have rarely been seen here since they were hunted almost to extinction in the 1800s. The latest sighting is particularly interesting because it is of two animals, which could possibly be a mother and pup, said Department of Fisheries marine mammal research biologist Linda Nichol. Ms Nichol said the sighting is “extralimital”, which means the animals are outside of their normal area. When it comes to sea otters, most extralimital sightings are of one animal, she said. The fact that two were spotted is exciting because it means it’s possible that breeding has actually occurred on Haida Gwaii, she said. The otters were sighted near the Langara Rocks, about 300 metres north of Langara Island, on June 24 by Langara Lodge staff member Roger Hager. Mr. Hager managed to take photos of the animals and pass them to a friend who is interested in otter research, who passed them on to Ms Nichol. Ms Nichol received a separate report of a sighting and a photo of one animal in the same location on June 4. Mr. Hager has worked at Langara Island Lodge for almost 19 years and said any sea otter sighting is exciting because of the history of the animals on Haida Gwaii. The animals were hunted to disappearance on the islands in the first 50 years post-contact. “A large part of the fishing experience with us is the abundance and variety of wildlife if the area of Langara,” said Mr. Hager. “We typically find ourselves fishing within reach of kelp beds and often imagining what they would be like, and of course the fishing, if there was a healthier population of sea otters.” In a message to several biologists about the sighting, Mr. Hager said he watched the otters for a memorable 10 to 15 minutes. “One of the sea otters was seen breaking open a shellfish of sorts on its stomach and eating,” he wrote. “The two together, while maintaining a close watch of our boat, were quite playful, with one often pushing the other down, seemingly to get a better perspective of its surroundings. The two were never more than a few feet apart.” Sea otter populations that are expanding into new areas usually appear first as groups of males, or rafts, followed by groups of females, so the sighting of a single female and pup is also unusual from that perspective. The closest established populations of otters are in southeastern Alaska and the Aristazabal Islands, off BC’s central coast.