24 April 2012 Species Spotlight—Sea Otters Posted by: Heidi Ridgley | Leave a comment | Share: With their expressive faces and soft, furry bodies, sea otters exude charisma. But when it comes to survival, cute and cuddly doesn’t always cut it. As few as 2,800 sea otters call California’s waters home. The population descends from a single remaining colony of about 50 hidden amid the crags of Big Sur, out of sight from fur hunters who nearly wiped out the world’s entire population by the early 1900s. Today they are at risk from pollution-caused disease, oil spills and fishing gear. But even in such small numbers, these marine mustelids—related to weasels, ferrets and minks—have a profound influence on the marine ecosystem, keeping crucial kelp forests healthy by eating urchins that can overgraze. The otters’ diverse diet includes clams, crabs and mussels, which they cleverly crack open with a rock—every otter keeps one tucked away in a chest pouch. Unlike most of their blubbery brethren, sea otters have fur—the densest of any mammal at up to 1 million hairs per square inch—to keep the chilly waters at bay. Because they can’t afford a bad hair day, much time is spent grooming their “do.” If their fur becomes soiled, it’s no longer waterproof and they can freeze to death. That’s one reason oil spills are so lethal. Despite these amazing adaptations, California sea otters still need our help to keep their heads above water—so they can frolic and we can be charmed throughout this century and into the next. Read more from the spring issue of Defenders magazine. Post Your Comment Click here to cancel reply. Name (required) Mail (required) (will not be published) You May also be interested in Safety Pens Mean Peace of Mind in Panther Country For Floridians who live alongside Florida panthers, coexistence means finding ways to protect both their beloved pets and these critically endangered cats. Building an enclosure is a great solution, especially for backyard animals. It’s Time to Act for Right Whales Years after they agreed to expand critical habitat for endangered North Atlantic right whales, we’re still waiting on NMFS to follow through. So we took to the courts to get this much-needed protection in place. How Should We Honor Earth Day? America has many worldwide firsts in conservation: we were the first nation to establish a national park, the first to create a national wildlife refuge, the first to approve a law protecting endangered species and the first to create a national day dedicated to conservation, Earth Day. But today, we are experiencing another period of crisis in America’s commitment to conservation. When did conservation become a polarizing political issue, when it has been, for the past century, a defining characteristic of American values and the American spirit?