Why They Are Endangered
Although most people enjoy watching these cute animals, not everyone likes them. Sea otters almost became extinct because hunters and fishermen killed them for fun and because they ate too many fish. Some were even killed when tangled in fishing nets. Oil spills are another reason why they are dying out. In 1989, the biggest oil spill occurred in Alaska and killed one thousand sea otters. Another reason is that people are taking away their homes. By the early 1900ís more than one million may have been killed. Just at the last minute when the otters were almost extinct, in 1911 Russia, United States, Japan and England signed a fur treaty (agreement) protecting sea otters and fur seals. There were only between five hundred and a thousand sea otters left.
The laws that were set were ignored, and the sea otter hunting continued. In 1920, Sea Otters disappeared from common places. Many experts were worried and unsure if there were any sea otters left. Fortunately, in 1930, sea otters were discovered in the Aleutian Islands and in Prince William South in Alaska.
People Help Them Recover
After all that had happened to them, people all over the world started to help them recover. A sea otter sanctuary was made. For a long time California thought that sea otters were extinct. In 1938, a California couple testing a telescope spotted a group of California Sea Otters off the coast near Big Sur. Sea otters slowly started to recover. In 1940, people made the sea otter refuge bigger. In the late 1940ís, scientists found out that sea otters were starving to death on Amchitka Island because there was not enough food for all the otters. USFWS, which is a team, which is helping the otters, is trying to get the Otters out of the areas where they might conflict with fishing and other human activities. People helped save the sea otter by preventing hunting and setting aside protected habitats, so that it is no longer on the brink of extinction.
Moving to a Better Place
In 1951 thirty-five Sea Otters were captured, moved, and then died. Scientists tried again in 1954 and in 1955 but the Sea Otters died again. In 1960 the sea otter population increased. Precautions have been taken. In 1987 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service began moving some southern sea otters to San Nicolas Island in southern California to try to establish a second colony. By the 1990ís the sea otters had been tagged and moved. Many of the otters tried to return to their original homes. By early 1994 there were only 16 adults and 2 pups still on the island. Experts think the colony is well established although it will take time until the population increases.
In 1970, an airplane full of sea otters from Alaska was flown to the coasts of Washington and Oregon. The sea otter Population grows 5 percent each year. Their population was between 100,000 and 150,000. From the early 1900ís to the 1960ís hunting sea otters was illegal. People who killed or hunted sea otters faced serious consequences. Laws helped. In 1960, Alaska allowed 1,000 Otters hunted to decrease population. In 1970 otter population was large enough to limit hunting each year. California wanted to kill otters due to conflicts about fishing.
Why Help Them?
Otters play an important role in kelp forests, which is used to make some products. Sea otters also attract people to business. People work hard when they know about endangered species from the news.
Ways to Threaten Survival
Fighting for food is not the only way people threaten the sea otterís survival. Sometimes when people are doing water sports too close to where the sea otters live, they may scatter and become distressed. Sea otters are very sensitive to stress. Boats or water skiers may injure sea otters.
Pollution threatens many types of life on our planet. When trash and chemicals are dumped into the sea, which causes the sea animals to die. This also affects human life because we eat plants and animals from the waters we pollute.
When an oil spill occurs the sea otterís coat is covered with oil, and the fur becomes matted and no longer holds in a blanket of air bubbles. Then the otter cannot keep warm and may freeze to death. Even if it cleans off the oil, it gets in its mouth, and its internal organs can be damaged because of the oil it swallowed. Oil fumes (poison gases) can damage its eyes or lungs. After 1987 oil tankers pass by sea otters. In March 1989 sea birds and sea otters died when tanker Exxon Valdez spilled oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska. When the oil spill occurred people from all over the country came to help clean the ottersí furs. Rescue centers were formed. The otters were given tranquilizers to keep them from hurting themselves or rescuers. If the otter swallowed a lot of oil a mixture of water and charcoal was pumped into their stomach to absorb the oil and allow it to pass out the animalís body. Then the otters went to the washing room where people spent two hours washing and rinsing their fur until the oil was gone. Then the fur was towel dried and blow-dried. In another room the otter was watched. If it seemed to be ok, then the otter was placed in a tank with water. Then it was placed in a bigger tank with other otters. Twenty-one otters were released with a tracking device. Between 3,000 and 5,000 died in the oil spill. Of the 350 that were brought to the rescue centers, 200 were saved. People fear oil spills can wipe out all the southern sea otters.