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Save Sea Otters from Disease and Extinction

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By taking the Otter Protection Pledge, you can help protect these amazing animals and ensure that they continue to thrive in the wild.

We should all be concerned about the future of sea otters. These small, furry creatures are a keystone species1 of California's marine ecosystem but they are also one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world2, with hunting, habitat loss, and pollution all contributing to their decline.

To make matters worse, sea otters are now facing a new threat: a bacterial infection known as toxoplasmosis.

Toxoplasmosis is caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can infect a wide range of mammals, including humans3. Sea otters are particularly vulnerable to this infection because they can become infected by ingesting contaminated water or prey4. In addition to toxoplasmosis, sea otters are also vulnerable to other bacterial infections, such as those caused by Streptococcus5, Vibrio6, and Leptospira7.

Sea otters have a weaker immune system compared to other marine mammals, which makes them more susceptible to bacterial infections8. Bacterial infections are not only a threat to wild sea otters, but also to those in captivity9, where they can spread rapidly and cause significant mortality. In addition to bacterial infections, sea otters are also vulnerable to viral infections, such as the herpes virus10, which can cause severe disease and death.

Toxoplasmosis can have serious consequences for sea otters, leading to neurological problems, blindness, and even death. A study conducted by the University of California, Davis11, found that toxoplasmosis was responsible for the deaths of nearly 40% of the southern sea otters that were necropsied between 1998 and 2004.

Humans can also be at risk of infection from T. gondii, which can be more severe in people with weakened immune systems12.

One way you can protect sea otters is to take the Otter Protection Pledge. By taking the pledge, you are committing to taking actions that will help protect sea otters and their habitat. These actions include reducing your use of plastics and other pollutants, disposing of cat litter properly, supporting efforts to reduce runoff from urban and agricultural areas, and reporting sick, injured, or dead sea otters to the appropriate authorities.

Reducing your use of plastics and other pollutants can help reduce the amount of pollution in the ocean that can harm sea otters. Disposing of cat litter properly can help reduce the amount of T. gondii that enters the environment. Supporting efforts to reduce runoff from urban and agricultural areas can help reduce the amount of pollution that enters the ocean. Reporting sick, injured, or dead sea otters can help researchers and conservationists better understand the threats facing these animals and develop effective prevention and treatment strategies.

Sea otters are an important part of the marine ecosystem and an iconic symbol of the California coast. By taking the Otter Protection Pledge, you can help protect these amazing animals and ensure that they continue to thrive in the wild. So what are you waiting for? Take the pledge today and join the effort to protect sea otters and their habitat!

More on this issue:

  1. Exploring Keystone Species, "Sea Otter."
  2. Wayfairer Travel (2023), "10 of the World's Most Endangered Marine Species."
  3. Hill D., Dubey J.P., Clinical Microbiology and Infection (October 2002), "Toxoplasma gondii: transmission, diagnosis and prevention."
  4. Dinah Voyles Pulver, USA TODAY (22 March 2023), "Cat poop may be killing California sea otters: Toxic parasite presents 'scary new challenge'."
  5. Daysha Eaton, KBBI (28 December 2015), "Streptococcus Syndrome Main Cause of Sea Otter Deaths."
  6. Caroline E.C. Goertz, Tim Lebling, Millie Gray, Verena A. Gill, Kathy A. Burek, Barbara A. Byrne, Woutrina A. Miller, Spencer Jang, Pamela A. Tuomi, IAAAM Archive, "First Reported Cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus in Northern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) in Alaska."
  7. Susan Knowles, Deanna Lynch, Nancy Thomas, The Journal of Wildlife Diseases, (27 December 2019), "Leptospirosis in Northern Sea Otters ( Enhydra lutris kenyoni) from Washington, USA."
  8. Julie A. Schwartz, Charles Mohr, Myra Blanchard, David Jessup, Brian Aldridge, Jeffrey Stott, IAAAM 2000, "A Preliminary Study of the Immune System in Free-Ranging Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris nereis)."
  9. G. Myers, Otters in Zoos, Aquaria, Rehabilitation, and Wildlife Sanctuaries Task Force (2012), "Summary of Veterinary Care Guidelines for Otters in Zoos, Aquariums, Rehabilitation, and Wildlife Centers."
  10. USGS (1 January 1990), "Identification of a herpes-like virus in sea otters during rehabilitation after the T/V Exxon Valdez oil spill."
  11. Kat Kerlin, University of California, Davis (22 August 2019), "What’s Killing Sea Otters? Scientists Pinpoint Parasite Strain."
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1 December 2022), "Toxoplasmosis: General FAQs."
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The Pledge:

Sea otters are an important keystone species in their ecosystem, playing a vital role in maintaining the health and balance of kelp forests and coastal habitats. Unfortunately, they face numerous threats, including pollution, habitat loss, and disease.

As such, I pledge to take action to reduce threats to sea otters and help protect their health and habitat. Specifically, I will take the following actions:

  1. Reduce single-use plastics

I pledge to avoid buying single-use plastics like water bottles, food containers, and plastic utensils, and instead opt for reusable alternatives.

  1. Properly dispose of pet waste

I pledge to make sure to pick up and dispose of my pet's waste properly, and avoid flushing cat litter down the toilet.

  1. Support sustainable fishing practices

I pledge to support sustainable fishing practices by choosing seafood that is harvested in an environmentally responsible way, and avoiding seafood that is caught using harmful methods.

  1. Use natural cleaning products

I pledge to switch to natural cleaning products that do not contain harmful chemicals, such as bleach or ammonia, that can harm sea otters and other marine life.

  1. Avoid using pesticides and fertilizers

I pledge to avoid using pesticides and fertilizers in my lawn and garden, which can run off into nearby waterways and harm sea otters and their prey.

  1. Keep garbage and litter out of the water

I pledge to properly dispose of my garbage and litter, and pick up any trash I see on beaches and in waterways to prevent sea otters from ingesting or getting entangled in it.

  1. Choose eco-friendly products

I pledge to choose products that are made from sustainable materials and have minimal impact on the environment.

  1. Hold companies accountable

I pledge to hold companies accountable for their impact on the environment, and support those that prioritize sustainable and ethical practices.

  1. Educate myself and others

I pledge to educate myself and others on the threats facing sea otters, and encourage others to take action to protect them and their habitat.

  1. Support conservation efforts

I pledge to support conservation efforts and organizations that work to protect sea otters and their habitat, such as Project Peril, a program of Greater Good Charities, which partners with the best non-profits devoted to combating habitat loss, stopping the illegal wildlife trade, and preventing human-animal conflict.

By taking these 10 steps, I am committing to reducing my own impact on the environment and protecting the health and habitat of sea otters. I recognize that every small action can make a big difference, and I am determined to be a part of the solution.

Pledged by,

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