Why This Week Is Extra Special (Hint: It's Sea Otters)
If you didn't already know it, sea otters are magically awesome creatures. Though Sea Otter Awareness Week is officially from September 21-27, these furry aquatic wonders should be celebrated year round.
Otters are a keystone species. Being classified as a "keystone species" means that sea otters have a more unique and significant role in their environment than other species. Sea otters play a vital part of their ecosystem by preying on urchins and other species who could decimate kelp forests if left unchecked. The otters thereby reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as kelp is responsible for absorbing excess carbon in coastal ecosystems.
Otters seem to be in a constant state of chill ... they spend a fair majority of their time floating on their back in the water. They sleep and eat meals on their backs, often using rocks to crack open some tasty bit shellfish on their tummy. The world is their waterbed!
It is important to note that female otters are basically supermoms. Otter offspring are provided with the utmost care and attention, as otter mothers like to cuddle their babies to their chests while bobbing in the water. If the mother goes off to hunt, she will wrap her baby in a clump of floating kelp to keep it safe. Occasionally she will go as far as placing the offspring on a dock or on the shore to ensure safety. Below, you can witness the adorable shenanigans of an otter baby who is waiting on a boat for his mother to return:
Even more ridiculous fuzzy cuteness:
Otters are very fastidious when it comes to cleanliness. This is due to the fact that, unlike many other marine mammals, otters do not have a layer of insulating blubber. They stay warm due to their dense, thick fur. If their fur becomes oiled or dirty, it can lose its warmth, and the otter can become very cold. Therefore, cleanliness is next to otter-ness!
Unfortunately, it is partially because of their fur that otters are an endangered species. Sea otters in California have been longtime victims of overhunting due to their thick pelts. The species is also very vulnerable to oil spills, with hundreds of sea otters killed as a direct result of the Exxon oil spill in 1989.
It is likely that the decline of other species has had a direct negative correlation on sea otter populations. For example, in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, it is suspected that the 90% decline in the local otter population is due to increased predation from killer whales. This is due to the fact that the local seal and sea lion populations have collapsed, and there is little else for the killer whales to eat.
Fortunately, there are still ways to help these little guys, such as disposing of hazardous waste properly and joining Friends of the Sea Otter. You can even find a list of ways to alter your daily routine and become a bit more otter-friendly here.
Here's wishing you a happy and impactful Sea Otter Awareness Week!