These Otter-ly Adorable Animals Are Also Very Important in Helping Our OceansFebruary 23, 2018
Yes, sea otters are otter-ly adorable (see what we did there?), but did you know that they are key to preserving kelp forests in the ocean? Wondering what that means? Well, keep reading below and find out what you otter-know.
Otter Outlook at SeaWorld is home to four female southern sea otters, Clover (7yrs.), Mocha (6yrs.), Coco (6yrs.) and Pumpkin (3yrs.). Rescued as stranded pups, all four otters were deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. SeaWorld San Diego is one of few facilities that are able to raise a sea otter pup from infancy to independence (approx. 6 months of age) to be integrated with the other adults in our exhibit.
Our spirited sea otters are the focus of three daily public presentations. Animal specialists narrate a wide range of crucial topics while feeding them variations of food and frozen enrichment food treats.
As a keystone species, the southern sea otters play a critical role in keeping the California kelp forest ecosystem healthy. The sea otter is a generalist predator, known to consume more than 150 different prey species. With few exceptions, their prey consist of slow moving benthic invertebrates and shellfish.
Did you know, sea otters consume 20% of their body weight daily?! A diverse diet including crabs, sea urchins, mussels, snails, shrimp, clam, squid, silverside fish, abalone, octopus and scallops is consumed by our otters on a daily basis. A main staple of a sea otter’s diet is sea urchins, which destroy kelp forests. Therefore, sea otters are integral in maintaining kelp forests and a healthy ecosystem.
This otter-urchin-kelp cascade occurs broadly across much of the North Pacific Ocean. Joined together, this direct consumer-prey interaction create a positive indirect effect of sea otters on kelp. Conversely when a system is in the urchin-dominant state (absence of sea otters), it also tends to remain there because the hungry urchins are continually on the move in search of food, thereby destructively grazing any newly settled kelp plant and preventing kelp from becoming established.
When a system is in the kelp dominated state, it tends to remain in that state because detrital fall-out from the overlying kelp blades provides adequate nutritional resources for sea urchins without the urchins needing to move in search of food and eliminating the possibility of destructive effects on living kelp. As sea urchins move along the ocean floor in search of food, they will eat away at the holdfast (similar to a root of a plant) of the kelp damaging its ability to stabilize kelp on the ocean floor.
Kelp forests provide a healthy habitat and protection for hundreds of invertebrates, fish species and marine mammals. Another notable benefit is, kelps take out large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. They take carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into sugar fuel with the help of sunlight and water, releasing oxygen back into the air, like trees. Sea otters take refuge from sharks and storms in these forests.
The southern sea otter (the species found at SeaWorld San Diego) is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. There are approximately 3,200 along the central California coast today, ranging from San Mateo County south to Santa Barbara County and San Nicolas Island.
At SeaWorld’s Otter Outlook exhibit, the sea otters can be seen wrapping themselves up in artificial kelp (car wash streamers) as they settle down to sleep. You can visit them today by purchasing a ticket here.
It continues to be our conservation mission to communicate to our guests about our sea otters and how important the southern sea otter population is to the health of the California coast!