Big mean sharks attacking poor fuzzy otters

In the ruthless battle of the wild, cute and furry rarely wins.

Inevitably, some menacing predator sweeps through and sends a fuzzy, friendly-looking critter the way of all things.

For California’s famously wubby sea otters, the prowling menace is increasingly a big white shark with big sharp teeth. Three times as many sea otter carcasses are being found washed up with shark bites now than in the ’90s.

But in many cases, the sharks don’t actually eat the otters. A gruesome Flickr series is available to the CSI-minded, but shots from 2009 show a fish and game official inspecting a mostly-intact but definitely chomped-on otter carcass.

The population of sea otters living in coastal California waters is estimated to be about 2,700. Last year, 70 sea otter carcasses with shark bites or other evidence of shark attack were found washed up between San Mateo County and Santa Barbara.

Many otter carcasses are being found with tell-tale serrated scratch marks of white shark teeth. A comprehensive study of the white shark population last year determined that 219 of the meanies are living off the California coast. And apparently feasting on otter.

Biologist Tim Tinker told the Merc that while the phenomena is unexplained, it’s part of the natural cycle of life and death that humans really can’t control:

“It’s a hard thing to explain to people, but there’s nothing we can do about changes in shark distribution or shark behavior. It’s natural.”

Sea otters are a threatened species in California, having been decimated many times over by human activity in the modern era. While their numbers have rebounded, growth is slow. The 2010 estimate of 2,711 sea otters is off 3.6 percent from 2009.

California sea otters are the smallest marine mammal. Adults can weigh 35 to 90 pounds, but their lack of blubber makes them susceptible to harm from oil spills. And to appearing in wildlife calendars.