Sea Otter Survey: Numbers Remain Threatened


Charmaine Coimbra

California sea otters are cute, entertaining, and still not out of the kelp (or woods) as far as their environmental well-being goes.  In other words, this species remains ”threatened” on the Endangered Species list after a recent census that according to lead USGS scientist, Tim Tinker, “This year’s census results demonstrate that sea otters continue to experience levels of mortality sufficient to limit recovery.”

A stabilized number for California sea otters is 3,090.  The recent count maxed at 2,654.

California sea otter dining on crustacean in Morro Bay. C. Coimbra photo

Otters thrived until the fashion industry discovered their luxurious thick and soft fur. The estimated 150,000 to 300,000 otters prior to 1741, when the fur trade began its slaughter of the tiny marine mammal with fabulous fur, shrunk to 1,000 to 2,000 by 1911.

With conservation efforts enacted, the population returned, except for the Aleutian Island and California sea otters.  The California sea otter continues to struggle with high levels of infectious disease caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses, according to The Otter Project

“There’s been a long-standing debate about what specifically is killing southern sea otters,” says Allison Ford, The Otter Project  executive director,  “But there’s no silver bullet. I think we’re all starting to understand that wide-spread degradation of the natural environment is the culprit.”

“Of particular concern is agricultural and urban runoff into the ocean and bay,” notes a recent news release by the conservation group.

Polluted runoff into the oceans is a reoccurring theme found within this blog. Keeping in mind that the ocean is downhill from everything, all one must imagine is the fecal wastes from factory farms,  agricultural insecticides and chemicals, leaking machinery (including our cars), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), and mercury rolling into the sea, and eventually infecting the food chain.

Ford told the Santa Cruz Sentinel, “In particular, we tend to look at sea otters in terms of water quality,” she said. “Otters really are the ‘marine canary of the coal mine’ and they can tell us all sorts of things that are happening in the water. There are a lot of things that we should be paying attention to that we’re not.”

Categories: Condition of Oceans, Pesticides, Plastics and marine mammals, Rivers to the Sea, Sewage Pollution

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1 reply


  1. Easter Otters and Dirty New Shoes « Charmaine’s Muse Pallet

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