Everyone knows that sea otters are “otterly” adorable. It’s an indisputable fact: the Earth revolves around our sun, the sky is blue, and otters are cute. Beyond their looks and antics, sea otters boast incredible adaptations to their chilly marine environment and are considered an ecological “keystone” species.
In the wild, sea otters prey on sea urchins, which graze on the holdfasts of kelp. Enough urchin-grazing can eventually cut these massive strands of algae loose, which then drift off and die. When sea otters aren’t around to keep urchin populations in check, these kelp forests—and all the species that depend on them—can suffer. Thus sea otters are a keystone in the kelp forest ecosystem: take them away, and the whole foundation can collapse.
Sea Otter Awareness Day celebrates the vital role that these threatened animals play in the nearshore ecosystem, and highlights how the Oregon Coast Aquarium provides top-notch animal care for its four rescued sea otters: Judge, Schuster, Nuka and Oswald. The Aquarium will honor this international celebration of sea otters on Saturday, October 1 from 10:00 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Our event is an exciting way to teach people about the ecological importance of sea otters along the Pacific coast, as well as demonstrate steps we can all take to create a healthier environment for them,” said Lindsey Sprague, a marine mammologist at the Aquarium. “Our four rescued sea otters serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts, and guests will have the opportunity to come behind the scenes with us for a sneak peek into how we look after our ‘boys’!”
Displays and presentations will include information about how Aquarium staff train, feed and care for sea otters. Those on the behind the scenes tour will get a glimpse of what goes in to sea otter husbandry, from restaurant-quality seafood preparation to the enormous collection of toys and other enrichment items that keep these energetic marine mammals too busy to get into their own mischief. Additionally, sea otter facts will be spread throughout the Aquarium’s exhibits to greet visitors as they explore Oregon’s coastal and marine environments.
The Aquarium’s four rescued sea otters comprise the largest group of permanent, resident sea otters in Oregon. Sea otters were once abundant along the Oregon Coast but were hunted to extinction, and are only occasionally sighted locally to this day. The southern population is currently listed as threatened with endangerment, and the northern population also faces challenges.
Despite sea otters’ perilous position in the wild, people of all ages can help by reducing their use of single-use plastics. These buoyant bits of litter often end up in the ocean, where curious otters sometimes mistake them for food. Additionally, bagging and disposing of cat waste—rather than flushing it—helps reduce otters’ exposure to feline pathogens, to which they are fatally susceptible. These practices are even meaningful for inland residents, as an estimated 80 percent of marine debris originates from land-based sources.
Sea Otter Awareness Day activities are free with Aquarium admission. For more information, visit aquarium.org or call 541-867-FISH.