A CDFW scientist using a telescope to search for sea otters. Sea Otter Conservation. Today, the otters would face modern dangers of heavy vessel and boat traffic, hazardous waste, sewage spills, oil spills and a significantly larger human presence. This is a challenging task due to year to year environmental variability and other external factors that may provide conflicting information. Survey procedures involve counting animals during the "spring survey" -- generally beginning in April and ending in June or early July, depending on weather conditions. Sea otters are what’s known as a keystone species in that an ecosystem would become drastically changed if they were no longer present. With conservation efforts, California's sea otter population has slowly grown to around 3,000. Sea otter population growth has stalled in recent years and many hurdles for full population … Since the 1990s, the southwestern stock of Alaskan sea otters has experienced a dramatic (up to 70% population) decline, most likely due to increased predation by killer whales. The Otter Project produces an annual southern sea otter status report to characterize the current status of the population. And recent research in Elkhorn Slough in Monterey County has found otters help boost sea grass, also a key home for fish, because they eat crabs. In a historic rebound, California sea otters, the frolicking ocean ambassadors of Monterey Bay and Big Sur, have reached their highest population level since 1982, when federal and state officials first began keeping track. Crustaceans tend to prey on smaller invertebrates that eat the algae that compete with eelgrass beds for light and nutrients, Hughes said. Southern sea otters, also called California sea otters, live in waters along the California coastline, ranging from San Mateo County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south. With more food, the sharks may have expanded in number also, or they may have changed their range. California’s southern sea otter has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1977. Hog Island Oyster Co. vice president Terry Sawyer said from his experience handling otters while working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, he knows they are persistent and strong enough to tear through the mesh bags that aquaculturists use to grow oysters and other shellfish in Tomales Bay. Other attempts to move otters have met with mixed results. The textbook example of this is otters controlling sea urchin populations, which in turns reduces the urchins’ consumption of kelp forests. California’s southern sea otter has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1977. In the U.S., there are two distinct sea otter subspecies, the Northern sea otter and the Southern (or California) sea otter. Lemur theft suspect ordered to stay away from San Francisco zoo Historically there were about 16,000 southern sea otters, commonly known as California sea otters, that lived from Oregon to Baja, Mexico. Sea otters along the mainland were surveyed from Pillar Point in San Mateo County in the north, to Rincon Point in the south at the Santa Barbara/Ventura County line (fig. “It is a two-way street,” Tinker says. Extensive study would be required before any formal reestablishment proposal moves ahead, Hughes and Harris said. Michael Harris, a California Department of Fish and Wildlife senior environmental scientist who has studied sea otters for nearly 30 years, said otters have had difficulty expanding beyond their range for various reasons, but great white sharks are high on the list. Fish and Wildlife Service. This triangle-shaped patch of ocean stretching between Big Sur and Bodega Bay has one of the highest concentrations of great white sharks. Otters are usually found no more than a few hundred meters from water. Eelgrass is one of the rarest habitats in California, with only about 11,000 to 15,000 acres estimated to remain, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “There’s not much there, just fur and bones. “It’s sort of like a perfect storm where we just had a blast of food,” said Carswell. While superficial, these bites can often be fatal have a significant impact on limiting the population size as well as the range of the otters, Harris said. After taking an experimental bite and finding a mouthful of fur instead of blubber, the shark usually lets go and moves on. Conception. This year, for the first time since population goals were set in the 1980s, researchers have counted more than 3,000 sea otters and pups on California's central coast. Otters could potentially provide that same function in San Francisco Bay.”. In estuary environments such as Elkhorn Slough in Monterey Bay, the otters have shown to improve state’s precious eelgrass beds by eating crustaceans, Harris said. from shore. Otters are a keystone species, and they affect all levels of the food chain. So using a variety of established study methods — radio tracking, veterinary exams, genetic analysis, diet observations — this collaborative group of scientists hopes to uncover new knowledge about this population of California’s iconic sea otters — a population … One reason there may have been so many more sea urchins in recent years, scientists say, is because of a disease that killed huge numbers of sea stars, or starfish, along the West Coast. California sea otters are found off the coast of central California, from Half Moon Bay to Pt. “That’s a lot.”. It has rebounded to around 3,000, still far below the estimated pre-fur trade population of 16,000. In southern Chile the marine otter is found almost exclusively along exposed rocky seashores; farther north it may inhabit estuaries and fresh water. “Over the longer term, it’s not just sea otter numbers we’re after, but the restoration of ecological relationships,” said Carswell. 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