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.
This entry was posted in Mini-controversies, Sea otter art and culture and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Guy Archibald says:

    In much of SE sea otters have destroyed benthic ecosystems devastating shellfish beds, crab populations sea urchins, etc. These are the very foods many in the villages rely on. Some of these villages get >80% of their food from the from the ocean. For 10,000 years Native people used with the utmost respect sea otters whom they consider brothers. They honor and ask permission. Things were in balance, both of the brothers’ families thrived. This needs to be restored. Commentators need to set aside their cultural biases.

  2. tagline23 says:

    Being a Native to the Washington-Suquamish region, I believe the idea is important for others to see what history has come to build. Personally, I know little of my own native tongue and it is just as difficult to revive. The life of a native has left me stuck preserving what I hardly knew I was a part of. This is a good idea, however, the odds that monitored realities, such as fur exports in the community, should and will be…monitored. it is my goal to preserve the history of my ancestors, teachers and those that help sustain my words, as a First Nation native. This can’t be seen as it was in 1895….

  3. alaskaguy says:

    In the northern part of southeast Alaska the sea otter has become overpopulated. Traditionally sea otters stayed out to sea in the kelp beds. After the Russians wiped them out, the U.S, in its usual haphazard way to make things better transplanted some sea otters from the Aleutians to the inland and near shore waters. consequently, clams, cockles, crabs and sea urchins are all but depleted. Because the urchins keep the kelp in check, the kelp beds are now enormous. It is allowed for Natives to hunt sea otters, but there is no market for the fur and Natives will not waste a resource. If someone can help develop a tannery and a market, it will bring in much needed jobs into our small villages and help the environment.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

    • Kerry says:

      Today is a Sunday in October 2013. I’m 66 yrs age. Been thinking about this for many years.I think Kendra is right.This can only add up to very few otters and it is clear that the people of the land will know ,this time, how to protect and also to venerate in use these wonderful keystone animals. They will not exploit them. We have learned so much in our years of savage damage.No more of That. Carolyn is also correct in her sacred work to save them, to save us all. It is all a wondrous weaving together. All the strands are essential to Naturegod.

  6. Poochie says:

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s