Devoted conservation programmes have brought sea otters back to Pacific shorelines.
Thanks to their amazingly dense fur – the thickest pelt of any mammal – sea otters were a very desirable target for fur trappers in the 18th and 19th century, prized for softness and warmth. Otters were hunted in their thousands and their skins shipped off to be made into coats and hats.
In just a few centuries the fur trade decimated the once healthy population, reducing it to just 13 small groups, with just one raft of 32 animals existing in California. Thankfully, legislation was eventually passed in order to protect sea otters by way of the International Fur Seal Treaty in 1911 and the Marine Mammal Protection and Endangered Species Acts in the 1970s.
Despite the threats that sea otters still face, populations are now rising thanks to conservation efforts. Monitoring populations and habitats, and implementing a rescue, rehabilitation and translocation programme, have secured sea otter populations.
Fostering schemes are particularly successful, where southern sea otter babies are placed with surrogate mothers in captivity. The captive female teaches her adopted pup how to swim, dive and feed. Pups have no human contact (carers even cover their faces when interacting with them) to ensure that the little otters have the best chance of survival in the ocean.