Adele Ogden’s 1941 The California Sea Otter Trade, 1784–1848 has provided the first and last word on its subject for generations. Ogden’s research was extensive, but Richard Ravalli’s Sea Otters is a welcome addition that integrates new historiography and methods from environmental history, while casting the otter fur trade as a trans-Pacific event. Ravalli notes that the animals, of the species Enhydra lustis, have recently become media darlings for their adorable looks and behavior, but the earlier exploitation of their furs by Russian, Japanese, Spanish, English, and US hunters played an important role in the development of trans-Pacific economic links.

Ravalli organizes the book chronologically and places much of its focus throughout on the imperial rivalries that the desirability of otter furs encouraged. The first chapter shows how Russia’s eastern expansion and increased trade with China in the 1700s led to...

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