Sea otter Mike Baird Sea Otter Numbers Are Down in California Survey Says

Sea otter. Credit: Mike Baird

After 10 years of a steady recovery, the southern sea otter – a species on the federal list as being threatened – populations are declining for the second year running, so says a population survey conducted by researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We have seen a decrease in sea otter numbers throughout most of their range, particularly in those areas where most of their reproduction occurs, while pup counts have dropped to 2003 levels,” explains the head researcher for the yearly survey, Tim Tinker of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. “A number of human and natural factors may be influencing this trend, and we are working to better understand what those are.”

The estimates of the population are calculated as three year averages of the yearly results of the surveys, which make allowances for variables which arise during different times of observation and give researchers a better picture of the trends in abundance. The estimate this year – averaging out the results from surveys from 2008, 2009 and 2010 – is a mere 2,711 otters. This signifies a 3.6 percent drop in the population overall, and an 11 percent drop in the number of otter offspring, compared to the estimates of 2009.

“Remember, sea otter health can tell us a lot about the health of the coastal waters that humans also enjoy,” Tinker reiterates. “So, we’re eager to learn more.”

Well, if that’s an indication.. Our world might just be in a heap of trouble.. Let’s hope they get to the bottom of it quickly.