Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem

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Product Details

Millbrook Press (Tm)
Publish Date
10.7 X 9.0 X 0.4 inches | 1.05 pounds
Library Binding

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About the Author

Patricia Newman's books inspire young readers to seek connections to the real world. Her titles encourage readers to use their imaginations to solve real world problems and act on behalf of their communities. These books include Sibert Honor title Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem; Orbis Pictus Recommended Book Planet Ocean: Why We All Need a Healthy Ocean; Bank Street College Best Book Zoo Scientists to the Rescue; Booklist Editor's Choice Ebola: Fears and Facts; and Green Earth Book Award winner Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Patricia frequently speaks at schools and conferences to share how children of any age can affect change. Visit her at


"A young scientist's doctoral research reveals a surprising relationship between sea grasses and sea otters in a California bay. Valuable sea grasses in Elkhorn Slough, in Northern California, were thriving in spite of heavy nutrient pollution from nearby Salinas Valley farms. When Brent Hughes began his investigation of this mystery, he looked at things directly affecting sea-grass growth, such as weather patterns. It wasn't until he compared sea grass cover with otter population that he found a match. In discussions with other researchers, the young white biologist learned that otters like to eat big, meaty crabs, which feed on sea hares, a type of sea slug that in turn feeds on algae growth that smothers the grasses. Following usual procedures, he then designed experiments to prove his hypothesis that the thriving otter population made the sea grass flourish. This intriguing description of the problem he saw and his research process is a model of the scientific method. Interspersed with chapters describing the mystery, the development of the hypothesis, the proof, and the larger idea of 'trophic cascades' (interactions among predators and prey that begin at the top of the food chain) are sections about otters and about sea-grass science in general. A map, ample photographs, and an attractive design add appeal, and there are sensible suggestions for environmental protection. A thoughtfully organized and attractively presented example of science in the field."--starred, Kirkus Reviews

-- (2/15/2017 12:00:00 AM)

"Though the cover of promises photographs of adorable, fluffy-faced otters, this volume packs a substantial amount of scientific detail as well. The main narrative follows marine biologist Brent Hughes and his study of Elkhorn Slough, which grew healthy seagrass while other inlets in similar conditions suffered. Eventually, careful research revealed that it was the presence of sea otters, the local apex predator, that allowed the slough to flourish. In four chapters, Newman details Hughes' research processes and examines the workings of ecosystems in general and how its inhabitants affect it at every level. Illustrations include not only those irresistible otter photos but also scientific diagrams and photographs of Hughes' experiments. A final chapter on conservation explains the often-damaging effect humans can have on ecosystems, while back matter includes relevant experiments, extensive secondary resources, and ways in which young people can help the environment on a daily basis. Not just an exploration of one particular discovery in marine biology, this is a comprehensive explanation of the scientific process as well."--Booklist

-- (2/1/2017 12:00:00 AM)

"With their big eyes; soft, furry faces; and playful behavior, sea otters are a favorite marine mammal among kids and teens. Protective measures have stabilized sea otter numbers after the mammals once came close to extinction. Only recently, through the work of marine biologist Brent Hughes, has their role in maintaining ecosystems come to light. The Elkhorn Slough, an inlet of Monterey Bay in Northern California, is a nutrient-polluted estuary fed by the fertilizers and pesticides used in nearby farming. This work chronicles the mystery of why this ecosystem is far healthier than scientists would expect. Using the tools of scientific research, Hughes has discovered that sea otters, the top predators in the food chain, help keep the sea grass algae-free through their feeding habits, which in turn allows the growth of a fish population and preserves a natural barrier to storms. The step-by-step process of ascertaining that the sea otter was responsible for the thriving ecosystem provides a strong example of the value and excitement of primary research. Clear, full-color photographs show how Hughes confirmed his theory. However, this title resembles a picture book, which may deter older readers. VERDICT: A very informative selection for environmental studies."--School Library Journal

-- (1/1/2017 12:00:00 AM)