Gena Bentall first noticed red algae attaching itself to otters' coats in the fall of 2010, when Repu, a large male otter, was spotted with red fur off the California coast. Initially uncertain of the cause, Bentall decided to take a closer look.
The species of algae, Acrochaetium secundatum, usually inhabited the North Atlantic, but Bentall expects it made the trip by boat between the oceans. "We have a strong suspicion that this is an invasion of an Atlantic species," said Bentall.
The good news is that the algae doesn't seem to affect the otters' ability to stay warm (their thick fur functions as an insulating wetsuit), growing only at the very tip of their fur instead of in the deep undercoat.
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