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Journal Article

Wild sea otter mussel pounding leaves archaeological traces


Uomini,  Natalie
Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Max Planck Society;

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Haslam, M., Fujii, J., Espinosa, S., Mayer, K., Ralls, K., Tinker, M. T., et al. (2019). Wild sea otter mussel pounding leaves archaeological traces. Scientific Reports, 9: 4417. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-39902-y.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-7998-6
Wild sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are the only marine mammals that habitually use stones while foraging, using them to break open hard-shelled foods like marine snails and bivalves. However, the physical effects of this behavior on local environments are unknown. We show that sea otters pounding mussels on tidally emergent rocks leave distinct material traces, which can be recognized using methods from archaeology. We observed sea otters pounding mussels at the Bennett Slough Culverts site, California, USA, over a l0-year period. Sea otters repeatedly used the same rocks as anvils, which resulted in distinctive wear patterns on the rocks and accumulations of broken mussel shells, all fractured in a characteristic way, below them. Our results raise the potential for discovery of similar sea otter pounding sites in areas that no longer have resident sea otter populations.