YGA Journal | Article

Sea Otter Awareness Week

Commemorate our adored aquatic mammals: A deeper awareness of Sea Otters

These marine mammals which were found in the population of 100,000 near our Pacific coasts have dwindled to around 3000 near the sea coasts.


Published September 25, 2022

Written by Zameen Aamer

Why are they endangered? 

As these adorable webbed feet animals try to survive in nature’s way, they are significantly harmed by people’s way. The Enhydra lutris, also known as the Sea Otter, were found in high populations in the past and have come down to an unfortunate number of 3000 Sea Otters near each coast. Being affected by anthropogenic causes such as oil spills, food depletion, and climate change, they are now classified as endangered. These top predators weighing in at 65 pounds and 4 feet pose no significant threat to humans. Sea Otters are mostly found along California’s central coast, and the Pacific coasts. They are crucial to maintaining the wildlife balance along our coasts and help reduce greenhouse gasses. Becoming nearly extinct in the 18th and 19th centuries from hunting, these animals were protected by the International Fur Seal Treaty of 1911 and later on the Mammal Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act. As they resurrect, their process is being slowed down by environmental changes and human contact. 

Asian short-clawed river otters at Newquay zoo

Anthropogenic Causes 

Sea Otters are also known as defenders of the environment because they store carbon and store it as biomass helping in improving climate change. Even though Sea Otters can defend their ecosystem against climate change by maintaining kelp forests and coastal wetlands, they also need the same ecosystem to defend themselves. Environmental changes such as contaminated oil spills, food reduction, and pollution destroy their homes and reduce their quality of life. Their thick fur is easily susceptible to oil spills which discomforts them physically and leads to skin damage creating an unprotected layer for danger. In addition to the oil spill, the pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) damage the otter’s internal systems such as the nervous system, reproductive system, and immune system. Since Sea Otters live around places where oceans connect with harbors they are highly influenced by human activities and their deaths are mostly near human-populated areas. As secondary factors affect the lives of these fragile animals they are directly targeted by humans.  

Direct human conflict 

Their conflict with humans has been going on for many years, they often get caught as humans fish and travel, along with being victims of the fur trade, sea shootings, zoo entrapment, and hunting. Sea Otters reside in areas where many aquatic animals often get hunted by humans, such as sea urchins, and arthropods. The nets and fishing gear may cause Sea Otter entrapment and drowning. In addition to such situations, the gear leaves behind many pollutants, affecting the livelihood of the Otters. As the Otters are caught they will most likely be injured or killed. Though hunting is accepted, most Otters are victims of illegal killing for the sole purpose of harvest. Certain coast ways are also heavily crowded with oncoming traffic with huge weights like tankers and fuel tanks. This increases risk of vessel-related incidents such as spills, and collisions with some of the smaller vehicles such as speed boats. British Columbia’s coast has had incidents where bodies of the Otters have been found with boat propeller marks. 

How can I help?

These harmless animals which help in the maintenance of our planet need to be cared for and the first step to this journey is starting with protecting their ecosystems. This means being good stewards of the earth and preventing pollution, along with finding ways to transition to a clean energy future so the homes of these mammals can be pollutant free. Many organizations have been working to reduce the impact of anthropogenic causes related to Sea Otters such as Oceans Canada, and WWF. Otters also became a part of the Marine Mammal Protection and the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s. Multiple laws have been passed to protect this animal such as the signing of the International Fur Seal Treaty of 1911. We can also participate in this cause by donating to a nearby or known animal charity, and becoming more aware of the ways how our animals are affected. Only then will we be able to save our “defenders of the earth” from endangerment.


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