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Sea Otter Census Out Today

PHOTO: Sea otter. Photo credit: Cindy Tucey
PHOTO: Sea otter. Photo credit: Cindy Tucey
August 21, 2012

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - The U.S. Geological Survey is releasing new numbers today on the status of the California sea otter. After the population of the animals hit a record high mortality rate last year, animal advocacy groups are hoping the spring census will reveal a reversal of the disturbing trend.

Jim Curland, advocacy program director with Friends of the Sea Otter, says if the mortality numbers are up there's more work to be done, and if the numbers are down the cause for concern continues.

"The way we always interpret it: If the numbers are up for the sea otter population, we have to remain cautiously optimistic. We can't celebrate, we can't figure that we're out of the woods with sea otter recovery, because recovery's been slow."

Last year there was a huge spike in the number of sea otters killed by shark bites. Researchers found tooth fragments and bite marks suggesting that great white sharks were confusing the otters with their preferred prey of seals and sea lions. Even more troubling was that the number of female sea otters killed by shark bites more than doubled in 2011.

Curland says while there's not much that can be done to prevent shark-bite deaths of otters, Californians can improve their "land-sea" connection.

"What we put in our drains at home, what we put on our lawns, agricultural practices, urban practices, all eventually get into the ocean and they hurt animals like sea otters."

The California or Southern sea otter was once hunted to the brink of extinction and is now protected by state and federal laws and is on the Endangered Species list. The USGS, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, regularly monitors the sea otter's progress to help determine if the species should be de-listed.

More information is at

Lori Abbott, Public News Service - CA