Sea otter pelts in traditional handicrafts–what do you think?


Sitka Tribe Seal; flickr user Native American Seals/Logos

Sitka Tribe Seal; flickr user Native American Seals/Logos

As you may have heard, we’re putting together a sea otter themed art exhibition in honor of Sea Otter Awareness Week, The Otter Zone. I’ve been calling far and wide for sea otter themed or inspired art, and have gotten lots of great submissions.

I’ve also gotten some really interesting questions regarding what we’re willing to include. A colleague in Alaska asked if we would be interested in traditional handicrafts that were made up of sea otter fur.

The listing of the Alaskan sea otters under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Proction Act include a stipulation that allows for the use of otter pelts in traditional handicrafts, so the practice is legal. It’s also generally accepted by conservationists as having an insignificant affect on population numbers.  It’s the animal rights folks that tend to be uncomfortable with the practice.

So all in all, a difficult question! Do we include works that are valuable to our understanding of sea otters in history and culture? Or do we look for a less…literal representation? What do you think?


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.
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6 Responses to Sea otter pelts in traditional handicrafts–what do you think?

  1. Carolyn Drake says:

    Okay, AGAIN, I do not approve of sea otter pelts used in native Alaskan handicrafts or in any other manner, much less being displayed. While my opinion may be insulting to native Alaskans, it cannot even touch the insult it symbolizes to sea otters who are an endangered and/or threatened specie. I once again and will continue to be a voice for the sea otters who cannot protect themselves. Native traditions should be abandoned in their practice when the destruction of an endangered specie is invovled. At best, it is time to move forward into the 21st century and stop some of the destructive behavior, under the semantic guise of “native traditions” we homo sapiens continue to deploy in destroying the planet and its inhabitants.

  2. Kendra says:

    As someone who has grown up in rural Alaska, I have no problems in sewing with any kind of animal fur. I use beaver to make mittens and hats, Fox and wolf for parka ruffs, and river otter for headbands and hats. Alaskan native culture is slowly dying as Western Technology is taking over. Many of my classmates dont even know the language anymore. Sewing with furs keeps some of the traditions alive. I think that it is important to show these handicrafts to spark pride in being Alaskan. Furs are also a natural resource that, when watched properly, can be replenished. Furs are also much warmer than anything I have ever bought in a store. So please, show fur handicrafts and artwork. Keep Native Traditions Alive!

  3. Poochie says:

    Absolutely not. Killing any animal for its fur these days is cruel and unnecesary and especially for art!!

  4. Wendy says:

    I don’t think I would be comfortable viewing these handicrafts – admittedly it stems more from emotion than anything else. I think the nuances of the law may be lost on the typical viewer (I didn’t know it was considered legal in certain situations either). But I have to say I remember examining a small section of a pelt at a marine exhibit somewhere and being fascinated to see how truly dense their fur is. It was more from an educational standpoint.

  5. suz says:

    I do not believe that we should celebrate the use of animals as part of traditional handicrafts, especially if they are endangered or protected species. I also do not agree with the perpetuation of traditional handicrafts using otter pelts or any other animals.

  6. Carolyn Drake says:

    Personally, I have problems about the otter pelts – to the point that I alrways refuse to take a turn in touching one offered by staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, of which I am a member. I view the pelt as symbolic of what almost destroyed the specie along the Pacific Coast. I understand, mentally, about cultural traditions, but understanding often doesn’t equate to acceptance on an emotional level. I don’t believe most people, or countries as a whole, pay enough attention to the past re learning from it, but are more involved in the immediacy of the present. The dangers that otters face now do not emmanate from fur traders, but from the toxic conditions they must live in in the ocean. I think that should be the primary focus of the art exhibit. I would find little pleasure in viewing otter pelts used in handicrafts. For me it would be similar as looking at a primate’s hand made into an ashtray. I would take a chance in offending the Alaskan art representation by excluding such handicrafts in honor of the hard-fought survival of the California southern sea otter.

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