Buhrman-Deever, Susannah

If You Take Away the Otter

(2) K-3 Illustrated by Matthew Trueman. In the blue-green depths of a Pacific Ocean kelp forest, a vast array of plants and animals live in harmonious balance. Seaweed, snails, shrimp, fish, eagles, and the "kings of these forests"--sea otters--make up this ecosystem's food web. Facts about each species wind through the illustrations, which portray adorable (somewhat anthropomorphized) otters in a peaceful ocean environment. But, as Buhrman-Deever warns, this wasn't always the case. In the early twentieth century, fur traders devastated the sea otter population, which led to an overgrowth of sea urchins, who ate the kelp and destroyed the forests. This disequilibrium is portrayed dramatically in Trueman's gauzy underwater illustrations. Over a few page-turns, the forest is taken over by spiky purple urchins that raze the kelp and drive away the animals that depended on it for food and shelter. When laws are passed to protect the otters, balance is restored. In today's kelp forests, "there is just enough seaweed, enough seaweed eaters, and enough meat eaters to help the forests thrive." Back matter provides additional details about the effect of unchecked hunting in the region as well as an update of current sea otter numbers in the wild; a selected bibliography is also appended.


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