Sea otter population in California increasing, survey finds

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Sea otters are seemingly flourishing in California with the latest U.S. Geological Survey revealing that there have been positive indications of increasing population of these creatures in the state.

According to numbers revealed by the USGS, the population of sea otters increased from 2,939 in 2013 to 3,272 at present. The increase in population of these otters have been attributed to unexpected jump in numbers in the center of the sea otter’s range – an area according USGS that spans the Californian coast from Monterey south to Cambria. Another reason behind the increase in population is easy availability of their prey – sea urchins – which have themselves registered a growth in population.

The news is definitely a great positive for the otherwise dwindling population of these sea animals; however, USGS has also revealed that localized population declines at the northern and southern ends of the range continue to be a cause for concern among resource management officials.

“The population index has exceeded 3,090 for the first time, and that’s encouraging,” said Lilian Carswell, Southern Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator for USFWS, “but sustained population growth will require range expansion, which means that sea otters will somehow have to get past the shark gauntlets near the ends of the current range.”

As mentioned earlier, there has been a decline in the northern and southern subsets of the population and one of the reasons is the increase in stranded otters near range peripheries with many being lethally wounded by shark bites. The deaths from these wounds may explain why there is lack of population growth in those areas.

Declines at the range ends have implications for the long term outlook for sea otter recovery.

“Negative population trends at the edges of the range are probably responsible for the lack of range expansion over the last decade,” explained Dr. Tim Tinker, a research ecologist who leads the USGS sea otter research program.. “These are the portions of the population that typically fuel the colonization of new habitats.”

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