When visiting this habitat, linger for a moment and consider this fact: you are looking at the largest population of sea otters in the state of Oregon. This species was hunted to extinction in the Oregon wild over a century ago, with the last known individual being killed just off the Newport Beach in 1907. The economic value of the Sea Otter extends back to the very beginning of our nation.
When explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark reached the Oregon coast on their famous cross-continent journey, they traded blue beads, a vest and a knife with the local Native Americans in order to procure the warm and durable otter skins. With the westward expansion of pioneers, Sea Otters were widely targeted by trappers throughout the United States and Canada. Their unique pelts, which contain up to a million follicles per square inch, provide such good insulation that the otter does not require a layer of blubber to retain body heat as you would find in whales, sea lions and seals.
Within decades, the otter’s survival was seriously imperiled all along the Pacific coast.
Ecological Impact of the Otters Decline
The decline of the Sea Otter in Oregon had far-reaching environmental impacts. Otters control the population of sea urchins which in turn feed on the giant kelp forests offshore. Without the otters to maintain this ecological balance, the urchin population managed to destroy many of the underwater forests and the habitat they provided for innumerable species.
Although the trapping or poaching of Sea Otters is now illegal in the United States, various factors including habitat destruction, competition for food with human fishermen, pollution and natural predation continue to challenge the species’ return. Today, this marine mammal is the focus of many different conservation and recovery efforts, particularly in California and Alaska.
About Our Otters
Our all-male raft of Sea Otters is actually composed of two species, the Northern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris lutris) and the Southern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris nereis). Watching the otters frolic in their pools or enjoy the public feedings are highlights of the visitor’s experience. Plus, seeing this threatened species up close will hopefully inspire some to help with the efforts to permanently bring the Sea Otter back to the Oregon coast!
You can watch our Sea Otters being fed every day at 10:30 am, 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm.