BP Sea Otter Habitat

Sea Otter Conservation

A Caring Public is Needed to Ensure Otter Survival

Joe Tomoleoni

Sea otters have faced many threats over the years. Hunting nearly wiped out the entire population by the early 1900s.

Now a protected species, California’s sea otters have grown from a group of 50 in 1938 to about 2,800 today. But they continue to face many serious risks, and the help of a caring public is needed to ensure that the species survives and thrives.

Beyond their intrinsic value as a species, sea otters play a critical role in maintaining the kelp forest ecosystem. They are the main predators of kelp-eating species such as sea urchins and abalone. Without sea otters, kelp forests are greatly reduced, resulting in the loss of habitat for many fish species. The coastline would also lose its buffer against storms.

According to Dr. Tim Tinker, a research wildlife biologist with the Western Ecological Research Center of the U.S. Geological Survey and an adjunct professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California Santa Cruz, one of the greatest threats to sea otters in California is land-based pollution in their marine environment. There are many things each of us can do to help sea otters and the ocean.

Oil has the potential to seriously harm or kill sea otters. Help keep oil or anti-freeze out of storm drains that lead to the ocean by not letting it spill on the ground. Recycle used motor oil. Cut down on oil consumption and oil-based products. And use public transportation, walk, bike, or join a carpool.

Household chemicals and pet waste are some of the other pollutants that are harmful to sea otters and other marine life. Take a second look at everything you put down your drain since most of this waste makes its way back to rivers, streams, and the ocean. Dispose of hazardous waste properly.

Scientists are studying a possible link between toxoplasmosis, a common disease that is carried by both wild and domestic cats, and sea otter deaths. Cats can carry the eggs of the parasite that causes the disease in their feces, and toxoplasmosis can be fatal to sea otters. Sewage treatment plants do not kill these eggs. Clean up after your pets and dispose of feces in trash cans so it cannot contaminate coastal waters.

Wetlands act as filters for any water that runs off the land, absorbing pesticides, fertilizers and disease-causing parasites. Improving and restoring freshwater wetlands near the ocean would help keep many parasites and pollutants from reaching the ocean.

Aquarium of the Pacific
Fertilizers that make their way into the ocean can cause algal blooms, many of which are toxic to sea otters and other marine species. Support legislation and community efforts to improve wetlands. You can also help by supporting legislation protecting sea otter habitats, kelp forests, and marine protected areas.

What we do on land affects the health of the ocean and its inhabitants. When we look out at the ocean, we cannot see most of these problems, but they are there. The best way to clean up the ocean is to clean up the land. You can help by reducing, reusing, and recycling and taking care to properly dispose of chemicals and wastes.