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Sea Otter : Conservation

Enhydra Lutris

During the 18th and 19th centuries sea otters were hunted for their gorgeous fur, and the southern sea otter almost became extinct - only surviving on isolated bits of the California coast. Since 1977 they have been on the US endangered species list and they certainly aren't hunted for fur any more!

However, there are still pressures on them today which make it hard to say their survival is certain. One problem is that sea otters like shellfish, and so do we. It has been shown that sea otters can have very dramatic effects on shellfish stocks, making fisheries hard to sustain in ottery areas. Sea otters are also very suceptible to oil spills, a big problem around Alaska especially. The tiniest bit of oil in their fur ruins the insulating properties and they quickly die of cold. On top of this are the common problems of human activities in their territories - motor boats and the like.

There are two other worrying recent problems. The first is a terrible brain disease which has been killing southern sea otters. The disease comes from opossums originally, and is believed to have reached the otters via domestic cats. The second worry is increasing predation by killer whales, who are forced to hunt unusual prey like otters because their natural food - the seals - are disappearing.

Links

Friends of the Sea Otter

The Otter Project