Its time to prepare for Sea Otter Awareness Week! This year, from September 26-October 2, 2010, Defenders of Wildlife is organizing its annal event to help raise awareness about the endangered sea otters and their importance in marine ecosystems.
Although Sea Otters are the largest member of the weasel family, they are the second smallest marine mammal. Prior to massive fur trading expeditions, Sea Otters once had populations in the millions worldwide. Today, they have dwindled to less than 95,000.
Hunted to the brink of extinction, these adorable mammals now need our help to survive!
Wildlife experts estimate that up to 1 million sea otters were killed for fur over a period spanning nearly 200 years from the 1700s to 1900s. Today, sea otters can be found in populations of less than 100,000 worldwide in Japan, Russia and the West Coast of North America.
I’ve been lucky enough to see them near Seattle, Washington and Newport, Oregon!
The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act both help protect Sea Otters in waters off the United States. They have been on the Endangered Species list in the U.S. since 1977. Populations of sea otters also exist near British Columbia, Canada. They are classified as Threatened by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.
According to Defenders of Wildlife:
The fur hunt of the 18th and 19th centuries was initiated by the Russians and began in the western Pacific, the Kuril and Commander Islands of Russia, and the far western Aleutian Islands. The hunt progressed eastward as sea otter populations were eliminated from many of the Aleutian Islands. The Aleuts were eventually enslaved by the Russians to further the hunt. The Russians established commerce and handling centers for the fur in Kodiak and Sitka, Alaska. It is estimated that between 300,000 and 1 million sea otters were killed for their fur over a 170-year period, between 1742-1911.
Following the near decimation of the sea otter population worldwide there were eleven geographically isolated sea otter populations spread throughout their historic range. Most of these remnant populations were in the Aleutians and south central Alaska, with one in California, around the Big Sur coast, and a few in Russia.
Of the remaining Sea Otters in the world, most are estimated to reside in Alaskan waters. Only about 2,000 otters still live off of California’s central coast.
Through dedicated efforts over the past 35 years, numbers of sea otters have rebounded. They now occupy most of their previous habitat, but at lower population counts than historically seen. Populations in California and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska still struggle, however. Of particular note is the vulnerability of the species to oil spills. Otters rely on their dense, specialized fur to keep warm. When they become soaked in oil, the fur gets matted to the point that it can no longer trap air for warmth. The animals die from pneumonia or hypothermia – if they do not get poisoned first from trying to lick off the sludge.
Of course, saving sea otters is impacted by how clean we keep the oceans. Cleaning up a beach is a great community activity. Properly dispose of trash and recyclables when you visit the beaches. Think about the sea otters swimming in and trying to fish waters that are clogged with debris and oil.
If you want to know what you can do to help save the Sea Otters, visit www.otterproject.org, or become a Friend of the Sea Otters. Activist organizations work with governmental agencies to adopt, maintain or increase preservation efforts for the endangered species. Check out Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program, and consider adopting a sea otter for only $25.
These cute guys say thank you!