The Outrageously Adorable Baby Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)
The come-back kids! From 1741 and 1911 the fur trade decimated the sea otter population from 300,000 to 2,000. Now that hunting otters is banned internationally, conservation and reintroduction efforts have brought the otter population closer to 200,000. Yet, recent declines due to disease and starvation have kept the otter on the endangered species list.
Otters are also superheroes of the ecosystem because they help maintain kelp forests, the habitat for many other creatures. Kelp forests are endangered by the eating habits of abalone and sea urchins. Sea urchins munch at the base of the kelp plants and destroy large swaths of the forest. Without the voracious appetites of Sea otters for abalone and sea urchins, kelp forests would become depleted.
Otters also protect sea slugs by eating crabs, slug predators. Sea slugs keep the seagrass free of sun blocking agae. Seagrass not only keeps the soil in place and is the home to thousands of marine species but together with phytoplankton and macro-algae they produce more oxygen than all the rainforests combined. Go team!