Sea Otters

An invisible threat to Sea Otter Health

In the 19th century, when it was fashionable to wear otter fur, sea otters were hunted to near extinction. Today, they are considered endangered because of poaching, entrapment in fishing lines and nets, oil spills, pollution, and loss of kelp forests.

Sea otters also face another threat that is invisible to the naked eye. A parasite called toxoplasmosis. This parasite, which was only known to reproduce in cats, can cause fatal brain infections and can have devastating effects on the sea otter population. Even healthy sea otters are contracting this parasite. Infected domestic and wild cats shed the parasite in their droppings, which ultimately make their way to waterways.

Veterinarians have been wondering why sea otters are dying from toxoplasmosis. Wild Animal Health Fund funded a study that found that certain strains of the parasite are likely to be more deadly than others. This discovery will aid in rehabilitating infected sea otters.

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An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Veterinarians were able to identify the parasite strain that is not only making sea otters sick, but also killing many. This information was added to existing research that is mapping the parasite in domestic and wild cats in central California. Veterinarians from both studies joined forces and together, the collaboration is providing concrete information that will help these animals. Veterinarians are able to target when, where, and what intervention strategies should be in place to reduce and control the land-sea connection of zoonotic pathogenic transmission.

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Are you wondering how you can help?

Are you a cat owner? There are several things you can do to help sea otters. It is critical that cat litter/waste not reach our waterways. When you clean the litter box, don't flush the waste down the toilet! Instead, it is important to dispose of the waste in the trash. Do you have an outdoor cat? You can still help by providing a litter box for them to use outside. It is important to maintain it as you would an indoor box. This will help in detouring the outdoor cat from using the bathroom in areas that can ultimately pollute the surrounding waterways with toxoplasmosis.

There are other steps that you can take to protect our waterways whether you are a cat owner or not. If you support the conservation and reconstruction of natural areas and wetlands in your area, you are helping to keep pollutants away from marine wildlife. Also, you can help sea otters from your backyard by planting native grasses and a rain garden to absorb runoff and filter contaminants.