Oregon’s Cutest Marine Mammal Has Been Extinct in the Wild for Almost Two Centuries. The Elakha Alliance Wants to Change That.

In Oregon, the adorable sea otter can only be found in captivity.

IMAGE: David Ledig

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Before European settlers came to Oregon, sea otters thrived along the coastline.

Then, at the end of the 1700s, the fur trade happened.

By the mid-1800s, hunting had decimated Oregon's sea otter population. Now, if you want to observe the marine mammal's adorable antics in Oregon, they can only be found in captivity.

The Elahka Alliance is working to change that.

The 2-year-old organization and newly formed nonprofit is dedicated to reintroducing wild sea otters to Oregon's waters. Along with being incredibly cute, the aquatic critters perform an important ecological function—they eat a lot of sea urchins, allowing for more kelp forests, which protect biodiversity by harboring marine life like fish.

"It was a very early loss, so it's hard to say what the kelp habitat looked like before the sea otters were lost," says the Elakha Alliance outreach director John Goodell. "But what we've seen from other places where otters have been both present and absent, there's just more kelp and more biodiversity and abundance that's associated with kelp."

Recently, the Elakha Alliance made an important step toward its goal. This fall, the alliance began a feasibility study on bringing sea otters back to Oregon.

Still, our state is a long way away from seeing sea otters in the wild.

WW talked to Goodell about why Oregon needs sea otters, what it will take to bring them back, and why previous reintroduction efforts have failed.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.

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