More than any other nonhuman species, it was the sea otter that defined the world's largest oceanscape prior to the California gold rush. In addition to the more conventional aspects of the sea otter trade, including Russian expansion in Alaska, British and American trading in the Pacific Northwest, and Spanish colonial ventures along the California coast, the global importance of the species can be seen in its impact on the East Asian maritime fur trade. This trade linked Imperial China, Japan, and indigenous Ainu peoples of the Kurile Islands as early as the fifteenth century.
In Sea Otters: A History Richard Ravalli synthesizes anew the sea otter's complex history of interaction with humans by drawing on new histories of the species that consider international and global factors beyond the fur trade, including sea mammal conservation, Cold War nuclear testing, and environmental tourism. Examining sea otters in a Pacific World context, Ravalli weaves together the story of imperial ambition, greed, and an iconic sea mammal that left a determinative imprint on the modern world.
List of Illustrations
1. Rakkoshima, the Sea Otter Islands
2. Promyshlenniki and Padres
3. Boston Men
4. Near Extinction and Reemergence
5. Nukes, Aquaria, and Cuteness
Appendix: List of Vessels Engaged in the California Sea Otter Trade, 1786–1847
Richard Ravalli teaches history at William Jessup University.
"Expertly integrating history and biology, this is the one book that tells the full, tragic story of the sea otter from its near extinction to its elevation to icon of cuteness. The sea otter, as Ravalli masterfully relates, has long been at the center of politics, conservation, and tourism in the North Pacific. Before you visit the sea otters at a Pacific aquarium, read this book to understand the fascinating history of how these creatures got there, and how they very nearly did not make it."
– Ryan Tucker Jones, associate professor of history at the University of Oregon
"Well-researched and succinctly told, this is the story of the late eighteenth-century sea otter trade that decimated a unique marine species and revolutionized the Pacific Rim by introducing coastal communities to a global capitalist system."
– Jim Hardee, editor of The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal
"Here is the story, richly told, of how these vulnerable mammals – the ermine of Asian markets – were pursued for their lustrous skins and hunted to near extinction. The quest eventually generated a rivalry between seafaring nations and Indigenous peoples along islands and coasts from China to Mexico."
– Barry Gough, professor emeritus of history at Wilfrid Laurier University and author of Pax Britannica: Ruling the Waves and Keeping the Peace before Armageddon