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CA Sea Otter Population Mysteriously Disappearing

August 10, 2010

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - It's a mystery that has scientists asking why; for the second consecutive year, California sea otters are continuing to disappear. The latest survey from the U.S. Geological Survey found the population has declined by 3.6 percent since last year.

While the sea otter population has dwindled to just 2700 animals, a fund set up to find out why the animals are dying is also in danger. Jim Curland, marine program associate with Defenders of Wildlife, says the California Sea Otter tax check-off program is the only source of funding for research on the animals.

"We get this question asked: 'Is that the only way that people can give to the California Sea Otter fund, by being a California taxpayer?", and the answer is yes. So that means that we're at the mercy right now of late tax-filers."

Curland says the potential loss of the program is huge and that it's not just sea otters that benefit from the fund.

"It's much more than sea otters, given that sea otters are what's called an 'indicator species,' meaning that if they're dying of a variety of diseases and other things, they're sort of the canary in the coal mine."

The voluntary check-off donation on state income tax returns was set up by the Legislature. The fund is $31,000 short of making the target amount required by the Franchise Tax Board to remain on state tax forms next year.

More information is at www.defenders.org

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA