Aside from the obvious benefits of having more cute and cuddly marine mammals in our lives, a new study shows that rising sea otter populations are beneficial for humans in a variety of ways.
Sea otters were hunted to near extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries. They were highly valued for their thick, waterproof fur. In fact, the prices got so high that some folks shelled out $45,000 (in today’s money) for a single pelt!
It’s no surprise that otter pelts were so sought after; they are the world’s furriest animal. They average 1 million hairs per square inch. To put that in perspective, most dogs have 60,000 hairs per square inch.
Anyways, fur aside, sea otter populations have bounced back over most of the Pacific Northwest.
It might seem obvious that this is good news. However, to understand the whole story we have to look at a sea otters diet.
The furry marine mammals eat shellfish and sea urchins. Lower numbers of sea otters mean high numbers of shellfish and sea urchins; two very important commercial species to the Pacific Northwest.
So, fewer otters mean more food (and money) for coastal cities and towns.
However, a new study published in Nature finds that in economic terms, the otters’ effect on their ecosystem — including increasing populations of fish, carbon capture, and tourism — far outweigh the costs to the commercial shellfish fisheries with which they compete with.
These are very important findings because they give conservationists solid evidence to continue protecting and managing sea otter populations.
A big win for the world’s furriest and, possibly, most adorable creature.