Sea Otter Awareness Week is just around the corner (Septemer 20-26), and we’ve got exciting virtual events planned. The first otter-themed event is a talk by Tom Beasley about the sea otter fur trade.Photo of sea otter.

From about 1780 to 1830, dozens of ships traded on the Pacific Northwest for sea otter pelts, selling the pelts in China and picking up silk, porcelain and jade to sell in North American and Europe. The trade was extremely lucrative and within 30 years, sea otters were wiped out from Northern California to Alaska.

In 1811, a ship could be outfitted for about $25,000US. Sea otter fur sold at $25US a pelt so ships were often returning with a $150,000 in profit.

Most of the ships were from the New England area – so much so that the Indigenous peoples referred to the traders as “Boston men.” Armed conflicts between the fur traders and the Indigenous population were not uncommon. The sea otter trade also brought disease (primarily smallpox) and disruption of Indigenous traditional culture and systems.

By about 1820, few otters remained on the coast. Sea otter pelts were used by Indigenous people as ceremonial robes and adornments for high-ranking individuals as well as for bedding and insulation. The loss of sea otters represented the loss of a valuable resource for the Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest.

Their demise also caused dramatic changes in the marine environment. Without otters, sea urchins flourished, which devastated kelp beds and reduced the rock fish populations found in kelp beds. About 40 years ago, sea otters were reintroduced off the west coast, and since then otters have returned to much of their traditional territory.

Tom’s presentation will examine the economics and exploitation of the sea otter trade and will look at the impact the reintroduction of sea otters to the Pacific Northwest has had on the environment and on Indigenous peoples.

Photo of a man in a suitTom Beasley is a lawyer with Bernard LLP in Vancouver. Tom has been diving since 1974, and the majority of his 850+ dives have been in the Pacific Northwest. He has been very active in the sport diving community and has served on many boards and committees including the Underwater Archaeological Society of B.C. and the Artificial Reef Society of B.C.  He is also on the vice-president of the board at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. His greatest passion is shipwreck research, exploration and preservation.

Tickets for Sea Otters: Economics, Exploitation and Recovery are only $5 (free for members).