Conservation Comeback: The Sea Otter

Sea otters are a marine mammal beloved by many, but it wasn’t long ago that they teetered on the brink of extinction. The international fur trade decimated sea otter populations starting in the 1700s, and within just 200 years, their wild population fell to less than 1% of their original numbers. Sea otters are a keystone species, and their presence in coastal kelp forests is critical to keep sea urchins under control — losing the otters could have resulted in a massive collapse of entire coastal ecosystems.

Luckily for the otters — and for otter fans worldwide — the International Fur Seal Treaty signed in 1911 began protected sea otters from hunting in international waters, and two years later, they officially became a protected species in California. After the eventual signing of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, and decades-worth of translocations from Alaska to coastlines further south, the sea otter population has made an astounding recovery. Today, there are over 25,000 sea otters bobbing around kelp forests from California to Alaska, and their role as keystone species in kelp forest ecosystems has been widely recognized in the conservation community.

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