Zooarchaeology and Heritage: The History of Sea Otters in Southeast Alaska-- from Near-Extinction to Protected Species to the Center of Conflict between Fishers, Hunters, and Defenders of Wildlife

Lecture | September 20 | 5-6 p.m. | 101 2251 College (Archaeological Research Facility)

 Madonna Moss, Professor of Anthropology and Curator of Zooarchaeology, Museum of Natural and Cultural History, University of Oregon

 Archaeological Research Facility

2018 ARF Fall Lecture: Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) were once common in the North Pacific but were extirpated from southeast Alaska by about A.D. 1830. In the 1960s, sea otters were re-introduced and now their populations are rapidly increasing. Today, sea otters and people are competing for some of the same commercially important invertebrates. After having been absent for nearly 150 years, the re-entry of sea otters into the food web has unsettled people who make their living from the sea. While some communities perceive sea otters as a threat to their economic livelihoods, some environmentalists view the return of sea otters as restoration of the marine ecosystem. The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) authorizes any Alaska Native who resides in Alaska to harvest sea otters for the purpose of subsistence provided that the harvest is not wasteful. Only Alaska Natives can buy and trade raw pelts or other sea otter parts, and make and sell handicrafts out of sea otter fur. Some environmentalists are seeking to define “traditional” Tlingit use of sea otters as not only utilizing their pelts, but as consuming them as food: in their view both of these conditions have to be met before Alaska Natives would be entitled to harvest sea otters. Meanwhile, contemporary Tlingit say that they never ate sea otter. This is a matter of cultural rights: who has the authority to define “traditional” use and who determines if a harvest is “wasteful”? This project explores the longer term history of sea otter use through zooarchaeology.

A reception will follow.