Since the 1700s, prior to the commercial fur trade, native peoples throughout the otter's range harvested sea otters for their pelts (2). An intensive commercial fur trade, from 1740 until about 1900, resulted in the sea otter being harvested almost to extinction, and by 1900, the sea otter was so rare that commercial harvesting was forced to cease (6). Sea otters were protected by an international treaty in 1911. Since then, numbers have recovered to an extent, but human activities, especially coastal development and marine pollution, now pose a threat to the sea otter (6). In 1989, hundreds, and possibly thousands, of sea otters were killed as a direct result of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska (4). The possibility of another major oil spill poses a continual threat to the sea otter, and could have devastating consequences. Additional threats include entanglement in fishing gear, particularly gill nets, and competition with commercial fisheries for food (6). In the central Aleutian Islands, Alaska, sea otters have declined by as much as 90 percent (4). Evidence indicates that this drastic decline is the result of increased predation by killer whales, which have switched to consuming more sea otters following the collapse of Steller's sea lion and harbour seal populations in the region (4).
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