Before the fall–the oceans (and otters) without us

Alaskan sea otter hunt

Sea otter hunt--Alaska

I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time worrying about the California sea otter population. It might just be one of the hazards of this particular job, but with constant news of chemical contamination, pathogen exposure, conflicts with fisheries and limited food resources, the few thousand otters we have are up against a lot.

So it’s always a pleasant reminder when the CA sea otter is held up as a success story. Although I have my qualms about current management strategies, it’s nice to be reminded of the positive–that the current population of CA sea otters has struggled back from the brink of extinction. All 2700+ otters are the descendants of that cluster of 50 of otters found off the coast of Big Sur in 1938.

I was mostly recently reminded of this by an article in the Canadian Press about a new study from Census of Marine Life that tried to peice together what the ocean looked like centuries ago. Apparently it looked a lot more crowded than it does now.

The article concludes by noting that limiting take of sea otters has allowed the population to increase, to the benefit of the surrounding eco-system. It points out that we have essentially run out of space to continue historical practices of “gold mine” fishing, in which fishers wipe out all the fish in one area and then move onto the next.

Protecting from over harvest and banning fishing from strategic areas is necessary to bring certain species back from the brink of extinction–a plug for marine protected areas if ever I’ve heard one. It’s also worth noting that protecting species like sea otters have benefits for lots of other species as well.

The article is worth a read–even if sea otters don’t get their nod until the very end: Studies track fishing industry’s history over 1,000 years .

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About Allison

I am the new Executive Director of The Otter Project in Monterey, California! Originally from the Bay Area, I went to school in San Diego, and came back north to Monterey for graduate school, where I found my calling: saving sea otters! Working for The Otter Project combines my passion for environmental policy with my love of animals. When not advocating for sea otters, I enjoy yoga, volunteer wildlife rehab, reading, and spending time with my cat Alyssa, who, for the record, I did not name. I have been with The Otter Project since November of 2007.
This entry was posted in Otter and Ocean History, Otters in the food chain. Bookmark the permalink.

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