Sea Otters
(scroll down for description)
24" x 48", acrylic on board, 2009
Alaska was sold by Russia to America in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars (2¢ an acre).  The major reason for a Russian presence in the North American continent was the fur trade.  By far, the most precious of the fur-bearing animals was the sea otter.  Their underfur has 150,000 hairs per square centimeter.  Over 1 million of these animals were killed for their fur beginning in the 18th century.

They were also quite easy to catch since they are gregarious and float around in "rafts" of up to several hundred.  By the mid 19th century their numbers were dwindling and the market for furs had changed.  Alaska, being a great distance from the centre of power of Russia in the far west, became of less interest to its rulers.

The sea otters were close to extinction for most of the 20th century but a number of colonies were introduced along the Pacific coast of America and now they are spreading across their former range.

On a recent fishing trip to south-east Alaska we saw many "rafts" of these creatures.  Their blond, furry heads and inquisitive expressions give them an endearing and appealing quality.