SAN FRANCISCO – It’s horrifying animal lovers and baffling scientists — two sea otters are sexually assaulting and then drowning harbor seal pups in an area about 80 miles south of San Francisco.
Over the past three months, the raging otters have killed more than a dozen young seal in the waters of Elkhorn Slough, a tidal inlet located midway between Santa Cruz and Monterey.
“Their motive remains a mystery. All I know is we’ve suddenly have a couple of otters killing seals at a fairly fast pace,” said Jim Harvey of the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. “And if we get five or six of these otters in the slough, we won’t have a seal pup left.”
Witnesses to the slaughter say the otters attempt to have sex with the seal pups before shoving them underwater long enough to drown them.
The first otter to exhibit the behavior was Morgan, a graduate of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program which rehabilitates abandoned otters.
The second otter is apparently mimicking Morgan’s deadly ways.
“This doesn’t absolve Morgan of anything, but it gave us the feeling everybody was focusing on Morgan when he wasn’t the only culprit,” said Andy Johnson, director of the otter conservation program.
The slain seal pups had bite marks and scratches on their snouts and lungs filled with water.
Morgan’s antics disturbed researchers who watched him cling to the carcass of one seal pup for two days as he sought food. During that period, he tried to mate with the corpse.
Aquarium researchers tried to capture Morgan, but he proved too elusive in the murky waters of Elkhorn Slough.
If Morgan can be captured he will be equipped with a radio transmitter in his abdomen and possibly relocated. Animals authorities can’t kill Morgan or the other otter because they are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“I’d rather have the animals removed from the wild,” Harvey said, noting that pregnant seals will begin to give birth in March.