News / Victoria

Video: Friendly sea otter plays with man on Vancouver Island beach

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_U-MQcTimM&w=618&h=408]

A video of a friendly sea otter spotted in Vancouver Island’s Cadboro Bay is making a splash online, but marine-wildlife experts are warning beachgoers to keep their distance.

In the video, posted on YouTube on Aug. 10, the wild sea otter swims on its back along the shoreline before making its way to an unidentified man standing knee-deep in the water. The playful animal swims around the man and then climbs up his legs as a crowd gathers to take in the spectacle.

“This is the coolest thing ever,” said a woman whose voice seems to be coming from behind the camera.

At the exact moment when someone is heard asking the man whether the sea otter is biting him, the animal appears to nip at his hand.

“It’s quite a powerful animal,” another spectator can be heard commenting. “If he bites, that would be ..." he trailed off, as another person piped up: "Not a good thing.”

Tessa Danelesko, co-ordinator for the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network at the Vancouver Aquarium, said the sea otter’s behaviour is unusual.

Sea otters were hunted for their valuable furs to the brink of extinction in the late 1800s, and were listed as an endangered species until 2007.

“Because of that they’re typically quite shy around people and boats,” Danelesko said.

But, Danelesko said, now that the population is recovering, several young male sea otters have been spotted exploring outside their typical range, as far south as Vancouver.

Danelesko urged people who come across sea otters to keep their distance and not touch or swim with the animal, even if it approaches them. Marine mammal guidelines suggest keeping a distance of 100 metres, she said.

Wildlife can be unpredictable, she said, and an animal could claw or bite someone who gets too close.

“No one wants to get bit by an animal, especially sea otters,” she said. “They naturally eat foods that are very hard and crunchy, like shellfish or urchins, so they particularly have very impressive teeth that I wouldn’t want to get anywhere near.”

If sea otters become habituated to humans and are deemed a nuisance, she said, they might need to be relocated or put down.

“As cool as it is, it’s best to just respect animals when we’re in their habitat or sharing their habitat,” she said.

If anyone spots a sea otter or cetacean, they are encouraged to contact Fisheries and Oceans Canada at 250-756-7253. For sightings of animals in distress, people are asked to call 1-800-465-4336.

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