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Sea urchins pose a humongous threat to kelp forests because they multiply quickly and eat at the holdfasts (roots) of kelp forests, feeding on the kelp frond where it attaches to the ocean floor. Bowlby also tracks individual otters by following beeps sent out by radio transmitters. All this eating helps make the sea otter what’s called a keystone predator. Sea otters have not always been a rare sight. With sea otters helping to keep the urchins under control, kelp forests can thrive and … It's really common to watch someone point at a river otter and say, … Without sea otters, these grazing animals can destroy kelp forests and consequently the wide diversity of animals that depend upon kelp habitat for survival Algae species that had been missing make an appearance, along with fish that like to hide out in the canopy. Also the enemy is a man. The body is dense A sea otter eats 25 percent of its body weight every day. In ‘Otters, Algae, and Plants, Oh My,’ Melissa Petruzzello of Encyclopaedia Britannica and Kyle Shanebeck of the University of Alberta discuss the relationship between sea otters and the health of giant kelp forests and eelgrass meadows. River otters live primarily in freshwater, though they do swim and hunt in seawater. And they love sea urchins, which eat kelp. Sea otters eat 25 percent of their body weight each day in sea urchins, crabs, clams, snails and other invertebrates. Otters are part of the Mustelidae family, which is a family of … Sea otters eat a diversity of fish and crustaceans, but importantly, they eat the urchins that feed on kelp. Sea otters eat things besides sea urchins. Case study: Sea Otters → Urchins → Kelp While scuba diving in the Aleutian Islands, Dr. Estes noticed places where the seafloor was covered with sea urchins and no kelp remained. They leave behind desolate areas called urchin barrens. Kelp is a giant, yellow-brown, rubbery seaweed stretching from the sea floor to the surface. Sea otters live in the Pacific Ocean and are found in Russia, Alaska, Washington state and California. The young otters are hunted by sharks, predatory seabirds and animals. An otter is “no more than a mouthful” for a killer whale, Bowlby says. How do sea otters use kelp? She disappears below the surface. By chowing down on these invertebrates, sea otters keep them from denuding kelp … Many fish swim around the kelp, such as the Garibaldi, the California state fish. The food sea otters eat can impact the entire ecosystem in which they live. The kelp can flourish, providing habitat for many ocean organisms. Kelp plants also shelter fish, sea urchins, and other creatures. Without the sea otters to keep them in check, urchins and other grazing invertebrates can turn flourishing kelp forests into underwater wastelands called urchin barrens . These dietary preferences may also make certain otters susceptible to disease. A study in California found that among an otter population, different otters specialized in diving at different depths to find different prey items. The abundant kelp resulted in … Friendly sea otters were easy for fur traders to hunt. A sea otter has thick fur to keep it warm in frigid waters. Sea otters eat about 20-30% of their body weight each day. That’s like an 80-pound kid eating 80 quarter-pound hamburgers daily. The abundant kelp resulted in carbon sequestration worth 2.2 … And kelp forests feed creatures besides sea urchins. For example, sea otters eating snails in Monterey Bay appear more likely to contract Toxoplama gondii, a parasite found in cat feces. Floating on a bed of seaweed or cracking a clam on its chest, a sea otter looks as if it doesn’t have a care in the world. Urchins eat kelp, and sea otters eat sea urchins. Sea otters are voracious, consuming about one quarter of their body weight daily. Sea otter eats urchins, crabs, snails, and animals with shells such as calms and abalone and many other marine species. They hunt and eat Sea urchins, which are spiky slow moving plant-eating animals. They are not at the top of the food web, however, and are eaten by orcas, great white sharks and other large predators. Other researchers are studying why California’s sea otters seem to have become more vulnerable to disease and parasites. And sea urchins eat kelp. Washington’s sea otter population isn’t growing as fast as it once was. Places that are overrun with urchins are known as “urchin barrens”. All of these species in the kelp forest occupy their own niche. Sea otters are considered a keystone species because of the crucial ecological role they play in maintaining the health and stability of the nearshore marine ecosystem. Individual otters in an area seem to have different prey preferences. A two-year-old sea otter is starving! This species is also considered to be the largest member of the Mustelid family, and this is because these … “You want to look at the three trophic levels: sea otters eat urchins, sea urchins eat kelp.” the importance of being a sea otter: In the presence of sea otters, sea urchin populations are controlled, which allows for kelp forests to grow (left). They have visible ears, swim belly down, use webbed feet to paddle, and move swiftly on land and water. Kelp plants act like the tall trees of a forest. Did you just call me a sea otter? Without sea otters, these grazing animals can destroy kelp forests and consequently the wide diversity of animals that depend upon kelp habitat for survival. Scientists map the kelp from planes to track whether particular forests are growing or shrinking. So, a 50-pound otter would need to eat about 10-15 pounds of food per day. Sea otters are already famous for benefitting the kelp forests that teem with life in the ocean. All rights reserved. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by e-mail. Each arrow points from something that is eaten to an animal that eats it. Sea urchins feed on kelp. Bowlby says, “They eat pretty much anything they can grab onto.”. They use the deep cover as protection from predators. The research will shape a new plan to help otter populations thrive. audio series. Sea otters do not eat kelp but they do live in the kelp forests. In places where sea otters have disappeared, sea urchins will eat the kelp forest until it’s gone. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2021. Now, a ne… Sea otters floating in kelp. Without otters to keep them in check, sea urchins in particular, with a healthy appetite for flora, were free to mow down large swaths of kelp forests that once flourished. She serves as the executive director of the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation. In one-day, sea otters can eat 25%-30% of their body weight to support their high metabolism. They once lived all along the Pacific coast, from northern Mexico to Alaska. The animals often wrap themselves in kelp so they do not drift away in the ocean’s swirling currents. But, according to ocean mammal researcher Ed Bowlby, Washington’s otters aren’t out of the woods yet. Kelp forests are home to many commercially and ecologically important species, including abalone, red urchins, rockfish and sea otters. Sea otters are one of the only mammals that are been known to use tools to obtain and eat their prey. On the other hand, the benefits of otters are the good they do for kelp stands. So when otters keep the population of urchins down, kelp forests expand. How do sea otters stay warm in the cold water? They are diurnal species and tend to forage for food during the initial hours of the daybreak. 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