California : Sea otters aren't just super cute—they're said to be helping save the West Coast

People on the internet are obsessed with cute animals.

California : Sea otters aren't just super cute—they're said to be helping save the West Coast

People on the internet are obsessed with cute animals. It goes without saying that many people are particularly enthusiastic about otters. After all, they hold hands so they don't lose each other. But sea otters aren't just cute, they're useful too.

Now they are to be used for nothing less than saving the US West Coast. The Center for Biological Diversity is calling for the reintroduction of sea otters between California's San Francisco Bay and the Oregon Coast. The non-profit conservation group has joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed a petition to that effect.

Reintroducing the sea otter along the entire West Coast would be an unprecedented conservation success story, Kristin Carden, the center's senior scientist, said in a statement. Not only would the sea otters thrive, but they would also help restore vital kelp forests and seagrass ecosystems. A larger population would also make it more likely that the species would survive an oil spill or other disaster.

The petition references a feasibility study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in which the Department of Fish and Wildlife concludes that sea otter reintroduction is possible along parts of the US West Coast. However, no recommendation is made as to whether such reintroduction should take place.

For the Center for Biological Diversity, the answer is a resounding yes, citing the importance of animals to the ecosystem. This mainly has to do with the diet of the sea otters. The marine mammals are very fond of eating sea urchins, thereby keeping the sea urchin population in check. The seaweed forests benefit from this. As The Guardian reports, in Northern California 95 percent of these kelp forests have disappeared due to sea urchin beds. And thus the habitat of fish, invertebrates and birds.

Sea otters could restore a balance here. As the "National Geographic" writes, the animals are therefore considered key species and ecosystem engineers. "Wherever there are otters, we find particularly healthy vegetation," says marine ecologist Brent Hughes of Sonoma State University in California. Sea otters have an extremely important function in their ecosystem, which has already become apparent within a few decades of their reintroduction to appropriate areas. There are examples of this kind. The resettlement that is now being demanded would not be the first of its kind.

The animals were once widespread on the west coast. The endangered southern sea otter now inhabits only 13 percent of its historical range, the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement. For a long time, humans had their eye on the fur of marine mammals. Sea otters have been hunted for the fur trade since the mid-18th century. By the early 20th century, they were almost extinct. Today, the animals are threatened by oil spills, low genetic diversity, disease, shark bites and climate change.

Quellen: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Guardian, Alpha Wissen, Center for Biological Diversity, National Geographic

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