California Sea Otters

Sea Otter
Image Credit
Chip Carroon
Chip Carroon

Furry and chubby with round, button-nosed faces, California sea otters are in a cuteness class all their own. Not only do they look adorable, they do endearing things like holding paws so they don’t drift away from one another as they sleep afloat on their backs. 

But it takes much more than cuteness to survive in the wild, where every day is a challenge for these imperiled marine mammals. 

California sea otters spend their days looking for food and staying warm in the shallow, chilly, nearshore waters of the Pacific coastline. They consume one quarter of their body weight in food each day, burning the stored energy to maintain a steady body temperature.

When it’s time to refuel, sea otters dive down deep into the kelp forests below to find the invertebrates that sustain them—clams, mussels and their favorite of all, sea urchins. This appetite for sea urchins earns the sea otter keystone species status for the role it plays in maintaining healthy kelp forests. Unchecked, sea urchins can graze through swaths of kelp, destroying vital habitat for fish and other animals and setting off a chain reaction that can deplete the food supply for the entire nearshore ecosystem.

Unfortunately, sea otter numbers are by no means stable. The fur trade that decimated these plush-pelted predators is long gone, but oil spills and other pollution, habitat loss and toxic algal blooms linked to climate change are causes for concern. Defenders has long worked to protect California sea otters, from securing funding for research to pushing for protective measures to help this federally listed species expand its range. Ultimately, the only list we want sea otters on is “world’s cutest animals.” —Kerry Skiff

Making a Difference

Defenders of Wildlife is taking over the work of our long-time partner, Friends of the Sea Otter, a California-based organization dedicated to sea otter conservation. Defenders will continue to further the cause of both organizations to protect and restore sea otter populations and habitat along the Pacific Coast and build on collaborations with state and local education and outreach efforts to raise awareness about California sea otters. 

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