Bringing Back Sea Otters Benefits People, Too
by James Dineen/Smithsonianmag.com
Trappers and traders in the 18th and 19th centuries prized sea otters for their thick, waterproof fur—and the high prices they would bring. In 1890, for example, a newspaper reported that Russian noblemen who sought to adorn their overcoats with otter pelts were willing to pay nearly $45,000 in today’s money for a single pelt. And so the sea otter (Enhydra lutris), once common from the Baja coast of Mexico to the northern shores of Japan, was nearly hunted to extinction by the turn of the 20th century.
Over the past hundred years, thanks to conservation efforts, sea otters have now recovered across much of their historical range along the Pacific Coast of North America, but they haven’t always been welcomed back. The problem is that sea otters compete with people for the shellfish and urchins that moved in when the otter population were depleted, a conflict that has provoked debate about balancing the need protections for the otters with the economic impact of their presence in the coastal waters.