MONTEREY, Calif. Jan. 21, 2011 - The US Geologic Survey has just released the preliminary count of sea otters found dead on our coast: 304, an unfortunate new record.
"We knew the numbers were high and suspected we were headed for bad news, but we tried to stay optimistic that the December number would be very low. We're disappointed" said Steve Shimek, founder of The Otter Project.
California sea otters are a federally listed species under the Endangered Species Act and the number of otters counted and found dead is carefully tracked and reported. The number of otters found dead is best compared against the spring count; if the otter population were large, it would not be unusual to find a corresponding number of otters dead. In 2008 and 2009, 237 and 232 otters were found dead or 8.6 and 8.7 percent of that year's spring count respectively. The 2010 spring count found 2719 living sea otters and 304 otters were found dead on beaches in 2010, or 11.2 percent. The preliminary USGS numbers also reveal that more pups and female otters were found dead this year than in previous years. Otters die from a variety of causes including disease and shark bites. In comparison to other meat eating animals, an unusual number otters die of disease.
Results are reported by coastal segment: 20 dead otters were found from Año Nuevo to Capitola; 32 from Capitola to Moss Landing; 37 from Moss Landing to Pier 2 (Monterey). Sixty otters were found dead along the single coastal segment from Cayucos to Hazard Canyon (near the coastal towns of Cayucos and Morro Bay).
No single number is entirely accurate and The Otter Project uses multiple factors to get a sense of where the population is headed. "This spring the pup count was very low, the lowest number of pups in many years; today's news reinforces our impression that the California sea otter population is struggling," said Shimek.
Solutions are easy to understand but difficult to implement. "Preventing oil spills and improving habitat and water quality are the answers," said Shimek. The Otter Project opposes offshore oil drilling and works with agencies to prevent tanker collisions. Marine protected areas improve habitat and The Otter Project continues to advocate for the return of otters to their historic habitat in southern California's Channel Islands. "Otters need clean water. Sea otters are swimming in a soup of agricultural runoff, chemicals, and diseases washing from our shores," said Shimek. "Improving water quality for sea otters is good for people too; every surfer, scuba diver and beachgoer is swimming in the same water."
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