California sea otters dropping in number
Aquariums like the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific are studying injured and orphaned otters like this one
August 22, 1999
Web posted at: 10:13 p.m. EDT (0213 GMT)
From Correspondent Mark Bernheimer
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Intelligent and playful, the California sea otter is a curiosity to scientists as well as the general public. But the elusive animal is becoming more difficult to find in the wild.
While their cousins in Washington, Alaska and Canada
are thriving, the number of California sea otters has
declined 12 percent since 1995, with just over 2,000
The rapid drop has prompted scientists to scramble for
solutions, but they can't fix the problem until they
understand exactly what is causing it. All they have so far
"Disease, contaminants, starvation and entanglement or
entrapment in coastal fishing gear," offers Carl Benz of the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But the clock is ticking. The remaining otters are tightly
concentrated from Santa Barbara to slightly south of San
Francisco. One large oil spill could wipe out the entire
Searching for answers, institutions such as the Long Beach
Aquarium of the Pacific shelter and study injured and
orphaned otters. But the animals aren't always easy subjects
"We've seen them take nuts off of bolts. We've seen them open
doors and walk out doors. We've seen them climb six-foot
chain-link fences. These animals are probably ... one of the
most challenging to work with in an environment like this,"
Curator Mark Ryan says.
Animal lovers may worry about the future of the California
sea otter, but scientists warn humans could be in jeopardy
"We use the coastline as much as the sea otters. And we take
fish from the water, we swim in the water, surf in the water.
And what's happening to the sea otter could very well be
happening to a much larger picture than just the animals
themselves," Benz says.
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Southern sea otter population in decline
Ship paints may lead to sea otter deaths
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Home Page
California Department of Fish and Game
Year of the Ocean
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