Threats to the Marine Otter

This is mainly from Brownell in Otters: Proceedings of the First Working Meeting of the Otter Specialist Group (1977), Otters: An Action Plan for their Conservation (1990), Larivière (1998) the World Wildlife Fund and information kindly supplied by Dr Gonzalo Medina Vogel (pers. comm 2001).


Lack of suitable habitat means that the species has probably always been marginal, with populations isolated from one another, and so the Marine Otter was ill placed to withstand any extra pressure.

Humans have always hunted these animals for pelts - the Yamana and Alacaluf peoples hunted otters with spear and harpoon. Since then, overhunting has led to their extirpation over much of their former range, and still continues today (mostly for footwear, especially boots). An otter pelt is worth three months' wages to an unskilled labourer, and the poverty of the people coupled with poor law enforcement (the chances of being caught and fined are very low) means the animals continue to be routinely over-harvested.

An example of a Marine Otter skin can be seen on the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office website; this information is used for identifying illegal fur shipments.

The sad and dramatic story of Chunguito, a rescued orphan otter, shows how futile legal protection is in practice, and how only a change in social attitude to the animals can safeguard them from illegal hunting.

Habitat Destruction

Settlement, holiday homes and watersports mean that the habitat of these otters, formerly unattractive to man, has begun to be used, driving out these timid animals.

Water Pollution

Mining concerns along the coast discharge heavy metals into coastal waters. As settlements expand, more effluent is discharged into the sea. In the Straits of Magellan, oil drilling in the northeast has led to numerous oil spills, which affect many of the islands.

Over fishing

Fishermen overfish all of the otters' prey - fish, crabs and molluscs. In addition, intensive harvesting of littoral/sublittoral seaweed, especially kelps, has begun -this reduces food and habitat available for molluscs and the animals that feed them. The Giant Kelp (Durvillaea antarctica) and Brown Kelp (Macrocystis perifera) are harvested for processing into thickeners and emulsifiers used worldwide, and the Chilean Kelp (Lessonia nigrescens) is widely used as fodder for commercial abalone farms.

Otters are also drowned accidentally in crab traps and fishing nets, and fishermen persecute them with dogs and guns as threats to fish, crab, and freshwater prawn stocks. Several of the otter's favourite prey are fished commercially - the Chilean King Crab (Lithodes antarctica), the Northern River Prawn (Criphiops caementarius) and the Whitemouth Croaker (Micropogon furnieri).


As people encroach on the habitat of the Marine Otter, bringing domestic dogs and other animals with them, the otters are in danger of exposure to Canine Distemper, Canine Parvovirus and Rabies, all of which are communicable, and fatal, to otters.

Marine Otter