Life is not easy for Californian sea otters. As one of the smallest mammals living in the ocean, sea otters make a tasty treat for great white sharks and are also plagued by diseases, not to mention the disturbance we humans cause in their lives due to pollution.
Despite the many challenges they are presented with, sea otters have managed to survive — due to various successful marine conservation attempts, it’s believed that the California sea otter may leave the USGS threatened species list sometime in the coming years.
This guy or gal seems pleased with the news…
That’s not to say their situation isn’t still dire, however — there are only a couple thousand California sea otters left off the coast. Threats to the otters are being combatted by strict conservation laws. California sea otters, were listed as threatened in 1977 under the Endangered Species Act. The major reasons for their listing include: having (earlier in the 20th century) been hunted almost to extinction for their pelts; their reduced range and population size; and their vulnerability to oil spills. As a consequence of their threatened status, sea otters are also recognized as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Under state law, sea otters are considered “fully protected” mammals.
Tim Tinker, a biologist with the USGS Western Ecological Research Center, said:
“Population growth in central California has faltered recently, so the fact that we’re seeing a positive trend is a basis for cautious optimism.”
Sea otters aren’t just cute either — they actually fulfill a very important task in the ocean, bringing carbon dioxide levels down by roughly 10 percent in their environments.
Otters do this by feeding on sea urchins, which keeps the urchins away from the kelp. Without the help of otters, the urchins will eat as much as 10 meters of kelp beds per month. Otters help protect the kelp beds, which are essentially sea forests, allowing them to soak up more carbon emissions.
This helps promote a healthy ecosystem in the ocean, making otters almost like the superheroes of the sea.