Sea otters can be found throughout the Pacific Ocean region; Northern and Southern sea otters inhabit North America’s west coast from Canada down to central California. They can also be found on the far side of the Pacific, near Japan and off the Russian coast, where they are known as Russian Sea Otters.

The Pacific Sea otter is a vital member of the northeast Pacific Ocean it calls home. The otters fill an important niche, and are considered to be a keystone species. They are foragers, and their diet consists mostly of hard-shelled invertebrates, such as sea urchins. Efforts to protect the otters who inhabit the giant kelp beds off the coast of California, have greatly reduced the devastating impact of the purple sea urchin. If not for the otters, the kelp forests would be overrun and devastated by the urchins.

Though they may not seem important, kelp forests serve many purposes. Kelp beds provide food, safety and habitat for thousands of marine species. Humans benefit as well; kelp produces oxygen (vital for us) via photosynthesis, and many products we use and consume on a daily basis come from kelp. Due to their dense nature, kelp forests also help to reduce coastal erosion and storm damage, which could put beach communities at risk.

Apart from their role as a keystone species in the ocean ecosystem, sea otters have also won our hearts and minds for their cute habits like wrapping themselves in kelp and holding hands to keep from drifting away while sleeping.

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