Sea otters are well known for being adorable furry creatures that eat constantly while floating leisurely on their backs. They also are what we call keystone species that have great impact on their respective environments; these can be negative or positive but usually the latter. So how big of a negative impact could a constantly consuming lazy creature like the otter have on the environment? Massive. Sea Otters can eat upwards to 35% of their body weight on food. Most of their food sources come from other sea life that eats kelp. Kelp forests are vast and diverse ecosystems that many creatures use to breed, and breed very productively. There are fields of these kelp forests off California coast, and sea otters are also present as a result.
Sea otters keep these environments diverse and flourishing by eating a variety of sea life, such as crabs, sea urchins, lobster, etc. that keep the balance of the life cycle of sea life living in the kelp forests. Multiple times in history, humans have tried to take otters out of the ecosystem believing they were negatively effecting the environment because of their voracious appetite. Instead, humans did the exact opposite of what they were intending to accomplish. Humans thought that sea otters were eating too much of the fish that they themselves wanted to harvest, so they hunted sea otters to near record low levels. Sea urchin population exploded as a result because of the lack of sea otters that were their natural predators. As a result, the sea urchins ate vast quantities of kelp unchecked, destroying the habitat of many diverse breeds of fish who use it as a mating ground. Fish populations plummeted; the only way to counteract this was to bring back the keystone species, sea otters. Once they brought back the sea otters by protecting them and stop the hunting, the environment gradually recovered. An ecosystem is like a fine watch, you can’t take out a piece, no matter how small or apparently insignificant without damaging the whole thing. Sea otters are one example of what can happen when you take out a big piece.
Posted By Andy Zou (C)