They have a pouch in their arm to store items like food and perhaps their favorite rock. Sea otters are a keystone species, meaning they have a larger role in maintaining the health of their ecosystems than other species. Otters are crucial in keeping kelp forests healthy and thriving. This turn can have devastating effects on marine life diversity. They have furry bodies, whiskered faces, and a propensity to lay on their backs and float on the water, a behavior that humans perceive as evidence of fun-loving. Not all otters use tools, but sea otters use them all the time. A keystone species is one that exerts a large, stabilizing influence throughout an ecological community. Sea otters are meticulously clean. Other things such as shootings and getting caught in fishing traps and nets promote a major threat to these sea otters. Sea otters are the most recently evolved marine mammals and have a number of physiological characteristics that make them an easy target for disturbance by humans. Eventually, the seagrasses become clean and healthy resulting in higher populations. On land, the otters face threats from bears and coyotes. But Estes didn’t understand the real meaning of what he’d seen until a meeting with veteran ecologist Bob Paine. Sea otters are an important component of nearshore ecosystems in the northern Gulf of Alaska. Some predators like the great white shark may kill the otters but not feed on them. What Is The Role Of Sea Otters In The Ecosystem? Held every year during the last week in September, Sea Otter Awareness Week spotlights the important role of sea otters in … 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. By Sharon Omondi on December 12 2019 in Environment. Although, their whiskers are robust and thick like their seal and sea lion counterparts, they never traded their front paws for flippers. And, even if you live far from the Pacific Ocean, that matters to you because kelp forests are one of the ocean’s great carbon sinks; they help mitigate the effects of climate change. Sea otters have altered ecosystems, making it more difficult for commercial fisherman to catch abalone, clams, Dungeness crabs, red sea urchins and other invertebrates the otters consume. As of 2006, the lingering oil in the area continued to affect the population of these valuable sea creatures. Thus, to survive the cold temperatures and maintain warmth, the sea otters feed on food amounting to an average of 25% of their body weight every day. In the kelp forest, it eats sea urchins and other animals that graze on giant kelp. They’re also considered a keystone species because of their critical importance to the health and stability of the nearshore marine ecosystem. They are native to the northern coastlines of the Pacific Ocean, from northern Japan to Baja, Mexico. The Eurasian Otter can be found in rivers and lakes in the Zagros, Elburz and Koppe-Dagh mountain range and in the Iranian Azerbaijan. Coveted for their extremely dense and insulating fur, sea otter pelts sold for as much as $1,125 each and were made into hats, coats and various other garments. Sea otters have a profound impact on the coastal habitats which is why they are rightly known as keystone species. Yet some of these same physiological characteristics, such as exceptionally high daily calorie demands, also make them critically important to our coastal ecosystem health. Furthermore, countries such as the United States, Russia, and Canada have set up marine protected areas where activities such as dumping of waste and oil drilling are prohibited. By controlling the number of crabs, sea otters helped sea slugs and other tiny marine grazers flourish. However, countries around the globe have enacted legislation outlawing their hunting. Sea otters often float at the water's surface, lying on their backs in a posture of serene repose. Sea otters are also considered a sentinel species because their health reflects that of California’s coastal waters. Sea otters play an important role in their ecosystem by controlling the numbers of sea urchins. Nonetheless, the managers of this estuary have recently reintroduced sea otters that have resulted in the sudden increase in the seagrass beds. However, even this is questionable as tens of thousands are killed LEGALLY each year by trapping. Did you know sea otters have built in pouches of loose skin under their forearms to stash extra prey when diving? Otter enrichment is important because it keeps them active and learning while playing all day. That’s because these creatures are an important part of their ecosystems. First, one of the biggest threats to the existence of sea otters is humans. As top predators, sea otters are critical to maintaining the balance of nearshore ecosystems, such as kelp forests, embayments and estuaries. Sea otters are a very important keystone species that are highly endangered. The research is investigating the evolution of sea otters and the history of the population which crashed a century ago due to the fur trade. Some researchers hypothesize that sea otters and their voracious appetites have played an important role in shaping the natural history of the California coastline and the Pacific Rim. This challenge has affected even large estuaries such as the Elkhorn Slough Estuary located on Monterey Bay in Central California, US. Sea otters are a keystone species, meaning their role in their environment has a greater effect than other species. The sea otter (Enhydra lutris) is a marine mammal living near the shores of the North Pacific, from northern Japan, the Kuril Islands and Kamchatka east across the Aleutian Islands and along the North American coast to Mexico.It has the thickest fur in the animal kingdom. With the reduced crabs in the meadows, the population of the sea slugs increase and feed on the algae seen growing on the leaves of the seagrass. They are adapted to this kind of environment by possessing a dense fur coat which insulates the body from cold. The scientists studied the impact of otters on kelp forests and marine life off the Canadian coast in British Columbia. Gidget was part of the Aquarium’s sea otter exhibit and surrogacy program and also provided a genetic sample that researchers used to create the first complete southern sea otter genome. Sea otters can eat 25 to 30 percent of their body weight in one day, which would be equivalent to a 175-pound human eating 45 pounds of food in one day. They eat sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. All maps, graphics, flags, photos and original descriptions © 2021 worldatlas.com. Sea otters have strong effects on prey communities and sea otter numbers and behavior reflect habitat conditions; because of these features, sea otters are particularly useful indicators of ecosystem status. Besides existing in the wild, otters are also raised in captivity like public aquariums and zoos. Photograph: Noel Hendrickson/Getty Images. Why are Sea Otters Important? Why Are Sea Otters Important? Sea otters are considered the "old man of the sea" because of their fabulous whiskers! Since they must sleep at the surface, they often wrap themselves in giant kelp to keep from floating away. The males are polygynous as they may take up multiple female partners. But the animals have not naturally repopulated to Oregon in the time since. Sea otters are vital to kelp forest ecosystems because they control communities of sea urchins, which are herbivorous invertebrates that if left unmonitored overgraze and potentially destroy the kelp forest (Allegra, Rath and Gunderson, 2012). Learn more about these cute and charismatic critters. We don’t want to be inadvertently killing them with our cars. They provide crucial habitat and food for other marine organisms and also help to contain coastal erosion. They have a pouch in their arm to store items like food and perhaps their favorite rock. After eating, they wash themselves in the ocean, cleaning their coat with their teeth and paws. Sea otters are critical to maintaining the balance of the near-shore kelp ecosystems. For example, in a kelp forest, otters eat sea urchins, and urchins eat kelp. California Condor Facts: Animals Of North America, The Causes And Effects Of Ocean Pollution. For these reasons, the sea otter remains classified as an endangered species. They’re also considered a keystone species because of their critical importance to the health and stability of the nearshore marine ecosystem. Prior to 1911, sea otters (Enhydra lutris) were largely extirpated from southeastern Alaska by the Pacific maritime fur trade industry.In 1965, sea otters were translocated from Amchitka Island (Aleutian Islands) to the outer coast of southeastern Alaska and by the early 1990's, small numbers of sea otters were documented at the mouth of Glacier Bay. Sea otters, in turn, are equally voracious predators of sea urchins. Whales, seals, sea lions and dolphins have a blubbery layer of fat to keep them warm in their environment of cold saltwater, but sea otters lack that layer. Sea otters were successfully reintroduced to California, Washington, British Columbia and southeast Alaska 50 years ago. They typically use … As urchin density decreases from sea otter predation, so does the grazing pressure on kelp and as a result kelp forests flourish in the presence of sea otters. Otters are some of the most adorable aquatic animals. Kelp forests are large marine environments where tall algae called kelp is the dominant producer. For example, Strobel said it’s important to know about behavior as sea otter populations expand to other areas in California, British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. These sea creatures also depend on a high metabolism rate to generate body heat. In fact, they are now recognised as … When population control of prey by their predators then affects the next trophic level, the kelp, it is referred to as a “trophic cascade.” Kelp is vitally important to the ecosystem: they can slow coastal erosion and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The grazers in turn kept the eelgrass blades clean and healthy. Economic Importance. When sea otters decline, however, urchin numbers explode—as does their grazing pressure on bull kelp. When otters are not around, the urchin population can get too big. Despite its common name, the North American river otter is equally comfortable in either coastal marine or freshwater habitats. Sea otters generally forage in nearshore waters shallower than 60 feet (18 m) but have been recorded diving to 300 feet (90 m) or more. The sea otter is an important part of both of these habitats — It’s a keystone species, which means that the health of sea otters is a good indication of the health of other species and ecosystems nearby. The urchins chew off the anchors that keep the kelp in place, causing them to die and float away, setting off a chain reaction that depletes the food supply for other marine animals causing their numbers to decline. Can otters use tools? Case study: Sea Otters →Crabs → Sea Slugs → Micro Algae → Eelgrass A new trophic cascade involving sea otters was recently discovered in a Central California estuary. And, even if you live far from the Pacific Ocean, that matters to you because kelp forests are one of the ocean’s great carbon sinks; they help mitigate the effects of climate change. Sea otters are very important to the environment, and without them the food chain would collapse. By controlling sea urchin populations, sea otters promote giant kelp growth, as that species is a favorite of sea urchin grazers. The high metabolism comes from the food eaten by the sea otters. Sea otters feed on a large number of crabs to retain their body weight. When they discovered Sea otters off California in the thirties it was like they discovered dinosaurs, because they thought they were extinct. Their charming features are unparalleled, from their expressions to their use of tools. 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