Scientists have warned sea otters have a low level of genetic diversity that has a population of decline, the species could be at risk of extinction.
Before the 1700s, there were estimated to be between 150,000 and 300,000 worldwide. However, they were hunted to near extinction during the trade, with numbers plummeting to as few as 1,000.
In 1911, having realized the threat they were under, Russia, Japan, Great Britain and the U.S. signed the Treaty for the Preservation and Protection of Fur Seals. In the century, sea otter numbers recovered, but the species is still listed as endangered — and its population is currently declining.
In a study published in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution the genetic diversity of sea otters. This is a measure of the differences between individuals within a given population. Large populations tend to have high diversity, while small ones ̵
Low genetic diversity can be less likely to adapt to changing conditions. A species can lose genetic diversity when there is a sudden population crash – even if numbers recover, the diversity is lost.
In the latest research, led by Annabel Beichman from UCLA, scientists analyzed the genome of a sea otter from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They then compared this to the genome of a South American giant otter. Sea otter "title =" sea otter "width =" 737 "itemprop =" contentUrl "/>
KAZUHIRO NOGI / AFP / Getty Images Their findings showed sea otters have low genetic diversity, potentially harmful genetic variation and evidence of mating between closely related ancestors. dangerous by itself, we also found elevated levels of potentially harmful variation within genes, possibly due to a history of population declines – which could impact the population going forward, "Beichman said in a statement.
Study co-author Robert Wayne added : "Sea otters may be at risk. This is a warning sign, a red flag.
The team is now planning to analyze otters from other populations, including Japan, Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.
Sea otters are currently threatened by hunting and fishing , habitat disturbance, pollution from oil spills and climate change. Because of the vital role they play in the ecosystems they inhabit, they are known as a keystone species — without them, kelp forests and the animals that depend on them would also be at risk or disappearing.