March 9, 2011
With California sea otter deaths on the rise, the U.S. Geological Survey is collaborating with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the California Department of Fish and Game's Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center to delve into the myriad issues threatening the species.
And the news isn’t good: experts say the otters’ bleak existence is looking even more so.
The California sea otter is listed on the federal threatened species list, and the recent rise in numbers of dead coincides with a report from CBS on the growing number of otters found mauled by great white sharks in recent months. Interestingly enough, while the sharks are killing otters, they’re not keen on actually eating the hapless creatures.
Scientists say the great whites aren’t mortally wounding the otters just for kicks. According to the USGS, the otters are finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time while swimming amongst the predatory fish’s favorite meal: seals and sea lions.
As sensational as the shark threat is, in reality human impact and adverse environmental factors are more of a detriment to the otters than any toothy monsters of the deep. Pollution from runoff, inland lake algae, winter storms and lack of food are just some of the factors that have to be considered when assessing the recent elevation in otter deaths.
The otter can be considered a touchstone of near-shore ecosystem health, and with record deaths being recorded last year, their current plight portends problems for the future health of the California coastline.