Of Bluefin Wrangling and Otter Observations

This morning, I was able to participate with two other researchers in capturing one of the 30 pound bluefin tuna out of tank #3 at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center. After stretching a slightly too small wetsuit on, we climbed down into the tank, which had been drained down to about 3 feet of water (about 1/3 of its normal level).
Two others herded the tuna into a modified length of blue, rubberized tarp. The tarp, 3 feet tall, was clipped onto the side of the holding pen, and there were 5 foot poles spaced at about 5 feet apart. The poles provided handles with which to maneuver the partition, and provided a surprisingly balanced mix of rigidity, weight (for the bottom of the curtain), and buoyancy (to hold up the curtain to the top of the water).
Once the chosen tuna was corralled into the enclosure, I closed the gap, and the two others began their work. I thought it was going to be an epic struggle between man and fish, but it was all over quickly. Once the fish was maneuvered between Alex and the partition, he gently hugged it and placed it in the stretcher where it was taken to another tank. It was amazing to see the tiger stripes on the sides of the fish when we were doing this. Tuna look so cool!
Changing subjects, a few weeks ago, I saw something that shocked me. I was working on the Derek M. Baylis, a boat under contract with the aquarium, when I spotted a sea otter dragging something that looked like a sea gull around. I took a look through the binoculars, and confirmed that it was indeed a dead bird that the otter was dragging around and playing with. Just to be sure, I asked a crew member to confirm this, and he was also taken aback with what he saw.
Talking to the folks who work at the Sea Otter Research And Conservation Center, I found out that otters will “take care” of sea birds who try and mooch their food. If a sea gull picks on the wrong sea otter, sometimes it will get throttled, or dragged under water where it will drown.
So do otters eat sea birds? Yes, to some extent, though birds are not part of their regular diet. If you put yourself in the place of an otter who is tired of having his food stolen by sea gulls, it is not hard to imagine yourself mauling one. At least for me, it isn’t. Those dang birds used to get into my potato chips and other stuff I brought to the beach when I was playing in the water in Huntington Beach!
The lesson that I took away from this otter encounter was that otters are not as cute and cuddly as they look, unless they are in pelt form. Then, and only then, they are the softest, cuddliest furry thing that you will ever feel.