Why are sea otters endangered

The sea otter is a marine mammal which lives on the coasts of the northern Pacific Ocean. Their primary form of insulation is their thick coat of fur, which is the densest fur known in the animal kingdom. Although sea otters have the ability to walk on land, they are capable of living exclusively in the ocean. These traits are what have made the otter such an endangered species.

There has been recent archeological evidence which suggests that for thousands of years, indigenous peoples have hunted the otter for food and fur. However, the large-scale hunting which would result in the death of nearly one million otters began in the 1700s. Fur trappers and traders began populating the area and in order to meet the foreign demand for otter pelts, otters began to be hunted viciously.

Otter extinction first began in 1741, when an extensive fur hunt began to drop their population significantly. Otters once numbered in the 150,000-300,000 range, but that number soon began to dwindle rapidly as more and more Europeans moved into the area in order to hunt them for their pelts. The first major record of this is when Russians moved into the area of the Kuril Islands in order to hunt the otters and sell their pelts to China. A famous Russian expedition to explore the north Pacific became one of the prime examples for the “Great Hunt.” These shipwrecked sailors spent the winter hunting sea otters and using their pelts as gambling fodder. When they finally returned to Siberia, it is estimated they had killed nearly 1,000 sea otters and because of the high demand for their pelts, they were able to command a high price for their loot. Because of this Great Hunt initiated by this failed Russian expedition, by 1911, the entire sea otter population had dwindled to around 1,000-2,000 individuals, and they occupied only a fraction of their former range. Recognizing the need to save the species from sure extinction, several groups located up and down the north Pacific coast began small conservation efforts began around this time, and an international ban on hunting was placed on the species in hopes that the otter population would begin to rise.

Several reintroduction programs have also been instituted throughout the years in order to try and repopulate the areas in which otters no longer habitat. Because of these reintroduction programs, the number of otters has skyrocketed, and the species is slowly moving into the rebound, inhabiting almost two-thirds of the former area which it called home before 1741. This successful recovery of the home of the sea otter has been considered a very important success for marine conservation, although populations near the Aleutian islands and California have recently been declining, or have reached their plateau at depressed levels. Because of this, as well as its increased vulnerability to oil spills, the sea otter remains classified as an endangered species, and will probably remain this way for many years to come.