[Originally posted to MBA Student Oceanography Club (SOC)]
Elkhorn Slough is great sea otter habitat, and it’s one of the best places to see otters up close. The large group of otters we saw right off the beach where we launched our kayaks is particularly conspicuous, and consists only of males. This is remarkable because male otters tend to be territorial; they will establish territories in areas with lots of food and females, and chase away any other males that wander by. While hanging out in the male groups, however, they cease to be territorial and all get along. You'll frequently see males in the group napping and playing together. The groups also tend to be very dynamic. Otters will continually join and leave the group as they go to feed or travel to different areas, but there are regularly over forty otters present at one time.
That view has changed, however, after scientists realized that many territorial males spend part of the year defending their territories, and then spend part of the year with the male groups. Some have been known to swim over one hundred miles just to hang out with the guys! Scientists aren't really sure exactly why the males all hang out together, but it seems to serve an important social function. There are usually older and younger otters present together, and it may be an important way for young otters to learn about otter social structures and how to interact with other males.
Sea Otter Project: http://www.otterproject.org/