The sea otter is the smallest marine mammal and the largest member of the weasel family. There are three sub-species of sea otters: Southern sea otters, Northern, and the Russian. This report explains why these three sub-species and sea otters as a whole have depleted in number in the past, and what it is that’s causing them to still be in danger today.
In 1741, Russian explorers discovered sea otters along the Russian and Japanese coast. They quickly realized that their fur was twice as thick and warm as the fur seal’s. It soon became very valuable in places such as Europe and China where it was known as “warm gold.”
The Russians were soon enslaving Alaskan natives called Aleuts to help with the slaughter. When the hunting was at its peak in San Francisco Bay, CA, 500-600 otters were being killed every week. Before all of this took place there where about 150,000-300,000 sea otters in the world. Afterwards, they were rarely seen and were thought to be extinct when a small raft of 300 otters were discovered off the coast of Big Sur, CA. A few years later in 1989, about 2,800 sea otters were killed in the Exxon oil spill depleting their numbers even more.
The sea otter was one of the first animals to be protected under federal law. In 1911, the International Fur Seal Treaty was signed , this was the first bit of protection the sea otters had, and by that time there were only 1,000-2,000 sea otters left in the world. In 1972, sea otters became protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, they were officially protected as a “depleted” species. In 1973, it became protected under Endangered Species Act, which lists them as threatened. All the above laws are very beneficial to the southern or California sea otter. However they are not very helpful to those in Russia, Japan, Alaska, and Canada.
Thanks to the California sea otter, the otters mentioned above have been given some protection, just not at the level it is needed. For example: all sea otters are endangered but only the California sea otter is listed on the Endangered Species Act. It is “fully protected”, meaning they are not to be hunted or harmed in any way. Unfortunately, some fishermen still shoot them because they are thought to be competition for fish.
As you can see, sea otters have had their share of troubles; all of which were caused by humans. Where there once where sea otters now there are none, and their population has dramatically gone down. Their population began to dramatically increase, but in 1995 it started to decrease once again.
Sea otters are still in trouble today, and once again humans are to blame, because protecting just one animal isn’t enough, their entire habitat must be protected. In Prince William Sound killer whales are now preying on sea otters, which they rarely do, since their waters are being over fished. They face other problems as well such as: off-shore oil exploration and extraction, which could lead to an oil spill, disease from toxic pollution, and drowning in commercial fishing nets. In conclusion, I feel we must do something to try and save the sea otter from becoming extinct, if they are to survive, as a species, much longer.