Good work: Defenders of Wildlife launches Sea Otter Awareness Week
Support your local Sea Otter
Sea otters, playful fun-loving members of the weasel family, roam the northern coasts of the North Pacific Ocean from Russia to Alaska, Washington and California. Because of their luxuriantly dense fur, sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction until 1911, when an international ban on hunting enabled the long process of restoring this keystone species to its historic range. Although sea otters are now protected, they still face hurdles on the road to recovery, such as disease, habitat degradation, food scarcity and exposure to freshwater toxins, especially in California.
Sea otter facts
Sea otters grow on average up to four feet long. Females weigh about 45 pounds, while males can reach more than 60 pounds. Because they don’t have blubber like seals or whales to insulate them against the Pacific Ocean’s cold waters, sea otters rely on thick fur for protection against the elements.
Sea otters are one of the few animals to use tools. They use rocks and other items from their environment like hammers to break into mollusks and other prey. They are naturally gifted hunters, perfectly adapted to their environment. Typically sea otters hunt in shallow waters of less than 60 feet, but they can dive more than 300 feet to forage the ocean floor. Because of their high metabolism, sea otters eat as much as 25 percent of their body weight each day.
Despite their cunning, sea otters have remained on the list of endangered and threatened species since 1977. Originally, oil spills were considered the main threat to their survival. New findings indicate that disease might play a larger role than scientists realized, possibly the result of the otter’s fondness for dining on filter feeders, like mussels and clams. These invertebrates tend to accumulate toxins from the water, and when otters eat them, the poisons get passed along.
California’s sea otters
California, home to a small but beloved sea otter population, is working hard to bring these animals back from the brink. Californians love their otters so much that legislation was passed to create a voluntary tax check-off program, called the California Sea Otter Fund, which Californians can donate to when filing their state tax returns.
Otters and climate change
Trouble for the sea otters could mean big problems for near-shore ecosystems. Sea otters keep sea urchins and other invertebrates populations in check, so they don’t devastate underwater kelp forests. Kelp forests act as critical buffers against storms and provide habitat for an array of marine life — from fish to seahorses. By locking up heat-trapping pollution like carbon dioxide, kelp forests also help in the fight against climate change.
Otters in the Registry? You could win
The Conservation Registry has plenty of Otter Creek, Otter Brook and Otter Tail projects, many featuring river otters, but we have no sea otter projects yet. Be the first to enter your sea otter project and the Registry will send you a free Family Sea Otter Adoption kit.
Learn more about Sea Otter Awareness Week.