World Otter Day

In honor of World Otter Day, I thought I would share a few otter facts with everyone.

As many of you know otters are notoriously cute, but they also play a vital role in keeping kelp forests alive. Otters do not garden the kelp, nor do they directly defend it. Rather, they help the kelp in an indirect way. Otters eat sea urchins–those weird moving softballs with spikes–whose main food is kelp. If the sea otters were not around to munch on the urchins, the urchins would eat every kelp until they ran out of a food source. If the otter population declines, it can spell trouble for all three species. The otters are on the up and up right now, but not too long ago sea otters were looking worse for ware.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1700s, sea otter fur became a hot commodity; they were almost hunted to extinction, until 1911 when the International Fur Seal Treaty outlawed the capture of otters. A few lucky colonies of otters survived and their populations began to rise. However, in the late 1990s, the otter populations again drastically declined. This time it was not from human predation, but killer whales (this does not mean we did not have a hand in it, though). The normal diet of killer whales is specific to their pod, but they usually specialize in hunting seals or sea lions. As the human whaling and seal hunting presence increased, there was less food available for the whales. Because of this unusual competition, the killer whales were forced to move down the food chain to otters. NPR’s John Nielsen reported that this caused up to an 80% decline in the otter population. This is due to the fact that killer whales are used to eating animals two to five times the size of otters, so they need to eat two to five times as many otters as seals or sea lions. Although the future looks grim for the otters at the moment, there is some hope on the horizon. The seal and sea lion populations are coming back after conservation and restoration efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state governments of California and Alaska, and in turn hopefully so will otter populations.

I know that was not the most uplifting stuff, but you’ll be glad you made it this far because here are some adorable facts about sea otters. First, everyone knows the iconic way a sea otter cracks open its food, but what you may not have known is that each otter has their own favorite rocks that they store in a pouch of skin in their armpit, so they always have the best tools for the job. Another fun fact about otters is that they love to take naps! But, if the otters were to fall asleep on land they might get eaten, and if they were to doze off in the water they would surely get swept out to sea by the current; so the otters thought up an ingenious solution. Before they fall asleep they go to a thick part of the kelp forest and tie themselves to the tops of a couple kelps to hold themselves in place.

I think that otters are amazing creatures that need to be protected and cherished, if not for their cuteness, for the vital rules they play in aquatic communities.

I hope everyone has an awesome World Otter Day!!

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