Sea Otters, Empire, and the Struggle for the Northwest Coast

Published In

We Proceeded On

Document Type


Publication Date



The otter played a starring role in the clash between empires seeking to claim the Pacific Northwest, from the late eighteenth to mid nineteenth centuries.

In time, the sea otter was nearly hunted to extinction. To day, the only places in Oregon to see otters are the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and the Oregon Zoo in Portland. Wild populations live along the Olympic coast of Washington and the central California coast, occupying a small percentage of their original range.

The sea otter diet generally consists of energy-rich shellfish and they are especially fond of sea urchins, which graze on the kelp and other marine algae that form the basis of nearshore ecosystems. Thus, sea otters are crucial to maintaining the health of the rich marine environments of the Pacific coast. Partly because of the absence of sea otters, Oregon's kelp forests are in jeopardy. Simply put, sea otters eat enough of the sea urchin population to prevent them from overgrazing the kelp forests. Elakha Alliance is working to return sea otters to the Oregon coast in order to protect and restore kelp and the nearshore marine habitats that kelp forests create. To learn about the importance of sea otters, visit the Elakha website, www.elakhaalliance.org. You can also sign up for the newsletter, The Raft, and follow the progress of the technical studies, participate in electronic conferences, listen to podcasts with leading scientists, find scientific articles related to sea otters Sea urchins overgrazing the kelp forests. and kelp ecosystems, and learn about sea otters' importance to Oregon's coastal Indian cultures.


Copyright 2021 LCHTF

The Lewis & Clark Heritage Trail Foundation

Locate the Document

We Proceeded On - The Journal of the Lewis & Clark Heritage Foundation.

Persistent Identifier