Southern sea otters still live in only a small part of their former range. They swim along a stretch of the California coast just 483 kilometers (300 miles) long. On either end of this small area, great white sharks gather to hunt. Sharks don’t typically eat sea otters, but they sometimes mistake them for seals and attack. This keeps the otters from moving up or down the coast.
“If we can get otters outside of these hunting grounds, that could really help them,” says Karl Mayer. He’s a biologist who works with rescued otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Scientists there want to start releasing otters in new areas beyond the shark feeding grounds. From there, they hope, the otters could spread farther along the coast.
For now, rescuers are sticking to safe spots. On October 24, scientists carried a crate to the beach at Half Moon Bay and opened the door. Yankee Doodle waddled out, then dove into the water. Before he swam away, the otter lifted a fuzzy paw toward the people on shore. To some, it almost looked like he was waving goodbye.