Conservation Status of the Marine Otter


There was no protection at all for the Marine Otter. Hunting was heavy and uncontrolled, leading to extinction in much of the species' range. Even though fishermen tamed the animals occasionally to help with fishing, this did not give the Marine Otter sufficient value alive to dissuade hunters.

1976 - CITES Listing

The Marine Otter was first listing as Vulnerable by the IUCN on 14th June, 1976, over the whole of its range. It is on CITES Appendix I - all trade in the animal or its parts is forbidden, Endangered as far as the United States Department of the Interior is concerned, and on 17th February 1998 was added to Article 1 of the Bonn Convention for the Conservation of Migrating Species of Wildlife. It is legally protected in Peru, Chile and Argentina.


On the downside, even though the Marine Otter is legally protected in all three countries in which it is found, and some of its habitat is in National Parks, throughout its range, laws are not enforced, and poachers (who are often extremely poor) know they are very unlikely to be caught and fined, whereas a single pelt can bring more than three months wages.

A sign of hope is the growing number of people in South America working on Otter conservation. This was demonstrated when the 8th International Otter Colloquium was held in Valdavia, Chile, in 2001; my account of this species owes a great deal to Dr Gonzalo Medina Vgel, the well-known Otter researcher, who organized the Colloquium. and generously shared with me material that was still in preparation for the conference proceedings.

The IUCN gives a figure of less than 1000 animals left in the wild; it is unclear how this figure was reached.

The first habitat protection are has been set up near Valdavia thanks to Dr Medina Vgel, and funding from the Nature Conservancy, the Comit Nacional Pro Defensa de la Fauna y Flora (CODEFF) and the Universidad Austral del Chile.

The Future

The first thing needed, from which all other things flow, is to get the public on the side of the otter. People need to be shown that the conditions that benefit the Marine Otter are also those that benefit people who use the same habitat. Teaching materials should be produced for schools. Perhaps a tame otter appearing on TV, at schools and colleges, visiting mining companies- anywhere people are - might change public perception of the Marine Otter. This approached worked in Missouri, USA, where Glenn Chambers and his tame North American River Otters helped to change public perception of the otter from pelts to charming, cute animals that were indicators of a safe, clean environment for people. It is individuals that make the difference, whether it be fishermen changing the type of crab traps they use to stop otters drowning in them, to families pressuring local companies to stop pollution.

Local initiatives are what are needed, and one has been started by Ricardo Correa, who owned Chunguito and in memory of him, began the Chinchamen Crusade to educate people about this little otter, and persuade them to see it as precious rather than a resource to be exploited.

Secondly, poaching must be controlled. Current laws must be enforced, and the trade routes of illegal furs discovered and cut off - without demand, there is urge to supply. Improving the lives and standard of living of local people would also help.

The number and location of Marine Otters must be established by survey throughout their range. If we know where they really are, there is some chance of protecting them.

Research is needed to establish what features of a habitat are really necessary to ensure survival and increase of Marine Otters. Then a network of protected habitats must be established in order to maintain a viable population, but also allow animals to travel, thus preventing inbreeding which is a danger in isolated populations.

The impact of intensive harvesting of marine resources such as kelp and shellfish must be established. The success of the otter indicates success in the rest of the marine environment - the otter is a flagship species, the visible tip of the iceberg. Exploitation is inevitable and often desirable, but overexploitation is neither.

As with all conservation efforts, nothing can proceed successfully unless the hearts and minds of the people who will be most affected are won, so this must be a very high priority. this is where captive otters, well-kept, can play a vital rle - it is much easier to relate to the real, live, cute, furry otter playing in front of you than the abstract concept of the animal "in the wild".

Marine Otter
Friends of Otterjoy: Cruzada En Defensa De La Nutria Chilena - Local Action Group for the Marine Otter or Sea Cat