Sea otters are popular attractions both in aquariums and out in the wild: They bob and cavort, they use rocks to hammer away at shellfish, and they wrap themselves up in kelp to keep from floating away while they nap. But the animals were once heavily sought after for their fur.
The fur trade decimated sea otter populations starting in the 1700s, eventually exterminating them from most of their historic range. They once stretched from Japan through Russia across to Alaska and down into Baja California.
Now two subspecies inhabit coastlines from the Kuril Islands (map) in Russia over to the Aleutian Islands and down into Washington state, while the third lives off of California.
Awareness campaigns such as the upcoming sea otter week—which runs from September 21 to 27—aim to educate people about the animals and how they still need our help.
—Photo Gallery by Kathy Moran, Text by Jane J. Lee