Sea otters are the smallest species of marine mammal, and one of the most vulnerable endangered species in North America. They are regarded as an endangered species by international regulations, and without additional protection, they may become extinct in the near future.
But why are sea otters endangered? And, more importantly, what can you do to help them?
The sea otter never recovered from severe overhunting that took place during the 1800s. Fur hunters and trappers drove the sea otter to the brink of extinction, leaving only a single small colony of sea otters to replenish the severely depleted population. Most modern California sea otters are descended from a handful of individuals, and, even under the best of circumstances, it may take hundreds of years for them to fully recover.
Fortunately, regulations are not in place that ban the hunting, sale or export of sea otter furs. Some poachers still manage to prey upon sea otters and profit from their destruction. Help to protect sea otters by boycotting any company that sells fur. You will not only protect endangered species, but also other animals that are threatened by the industry.
Oil spill pollution is the greatest threat to the sea otter’s survival. The otter’s fur loses its insulating properties when it is coated in oil, and the animal unintentionally poisons itself when it tries to remove the sticky debris. Otters affected by oil spills die of hypothermia, digestive problems and lung damage. Almost 4,000 sea otters died during the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which affected otters more than any other species.
To help protect sea otters threatened by oil spills, become active in the fight against offshore drilling and oil exploration in protected wildlife reserves. Incorporate green living into your everyday lifestyle to minimize your own consumption of fossil fuels. If an oil spill the size of the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred on the other end of the country, it could easily drive the endangered sea otter to extinction.
Threats from Fishing
Gill and trammel nets severely harmed sea otters’ populations during the 1970s and 1980s, and these damages persist even with more “eco-friendly” fishing techniques. Fishing nets endanger sea otters by causing them to drown or suffer life-threatening injuries. Emaciated sea otters die in areas where overfishing depletes the populations of sea otters’ natural food sources. Additionally, predators like sharks and orcas may prey more on sea otters because humans have reduced the populations of other natural prey.
If you want to do your part to protect sea otters, your best bet is to go vegetarian. This minimizes the ecological impact of fishing and exploration in the sea otter’s native range. Your efforts toward a vegetarian lifestyle can help to facilitate a healthier, more sustainable habitat for endangered sea otters and many other wild animals.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature offers more information about endangered sea otters and ways that everyday people can help.