Ocean Currents

What’s So Special About Sea Otters?

Celebrating the sea otter and its significant role in the health of our ocean

© Lori and Rich Rothstein

Most everyone is already “aware” of sea otters and the extreme levels of cuteness they bring to our estuaries and, let’s be honest, the internet. It seems not a day goes by that someone somewhere doesn’t share an adorable gif and a “you otter know”-type pun—especially on the Ocean Conservancy team. Our team is also otter-ly passionate about keeping our seas safe for sea otters. And so, to kick off Sea Otter Awareness Week, we’re here to explain why these agile little animals are such an essential piece to our vast ocean ecosystem.

Did you know that sea otters are considered a “keystone species”?

Being a keystone species means that sea otters impact on their environment is valued greater than other species. If sea otters aren’t around to munch on crunchy sea urchins, kelp forests can become depleted from urchins devouring them. And since kelp forests keep carbon dioxide levels in check, their absence has a direct impact on the fish and invertebrates that rely on them for nourishment and shelter.

But that’s not all. Sea otters are also considered an apex predator in their estuary habitat, eating not only urchins but a variety of mollusks and crustaceans—including crabs. Because otters are such good predators, the sea slugs that are typically eaten by crabs have the chance to do their job in removing excess algae from seagrass. This all circles back to providing healthy hunting grounds for sea otters. It’s truly divine design.

Sea otters are some of the cutest and most social critters in the ocean … but this hasn’t saved them from threats like oil spills, pollution and climate change. When we do our part, we can make sure our seas remain a safe playground for one of the planet’s most whimsical and important creatures. We’re excited to celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week with you.

How will you celebrate sea otters this week?

Shane Keena
© Shane Keena

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