Watching wildlife in their natural environment is always a thrill, especially when they’re as playful as these two Northern Sea Otters were. They were frolicking and feeding in the waters off of Cordova, AK, unaware that I was even watching them. Then one of them looked my way, saw me, and stuck her tongue out at me as if to say, “We’re having more fun than you…”. And I believe they were.
Sea otter populations were dramatically reduced from millions to around 1,000 – 2,000 in the early 1900’s by a very aggressive fur trade. Today, with good effective conservation efforts, the numbers of sea otters has again climbed to over 100,000 world wide.
In Alaska and the Northern Pacific, sea otters are known as a “keystone species”, meaning their role in their environment has a greater positive impact than other species. That is not to say that other species don’t play a key role in our environments, but the sea otter’s role is critical in maintaining balance in coastal marine ecosystems. Take climate change for example. Sea otters indirectly help to reduce levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which contributes to atmospheric warming, by controlling the marine animal populations, such as sea urchins, which devour the kelp forests. Kelp forests capture vast amounts of carbon dioxide in order to grow at their rapid rate and without them global warming could continue at even a faster rate.
So for the sake of the planet and our own enjoyment and well-being let’s continue to watch the sea otters play in our coastal waters and protect them and their environment for our future generations to enjoy.