Sea Otters are native to the coastal environments of the northeastern Pacific, including the coastal habitat of California, Alaska, British Columbia and Washington.
Sea otters eat primarily sea urchins, some molluscs and crustaceans, and some species of fish. They are considered a keystone species in some ecosystems because they keep sea urchin populations in check, which in turn enable kelp populations to thrive. If a species is a “keystone species,” it means that the species has a tremendous impact on ecosystems – more so than their numbers would suggest. Without sea otters, sea urchin populations would boom and in turn kelp populations would diminish. Their existence helps to keep these predator-prey relationships in balance.
Predation of sea otters occurs, however it is not very common. Marine species such as Orcas, sharks and seals have been known to prey on sea otters. On land, mammals such as bears and coyotes pose a threat to sea otters.
Sea otters were hunted extensively for their fur from the 1700’s to early 1900’s. Their numbers decreased so significantly that they are now considered an endangered species, and it is now illegal to intentionally harm or kill a sea otter. Sea otters are also threatened by pollution such as oil spills. If a sea otter comes into contact with oil, the oil can cover their coat and prevent them from maintaining their warmth, which can result in hypothermia and eventually death.
Sea otter populations have rebounded to about two thirds of their native range, which is considered one of the most successful marine conservation efforts in history.