Otters Up and Down

As Threatened Species’ Population Trends Down, Agency Desperately Seeks Donations

Though there were more individuals counted this spring than last, California’s sea otter population is still trending down, as the three-year average of 2,711 furry animals shows a 3.6 percent decline, with a particularly alarming drop in pups and rise in beach strandings.

Meanwhile, the California Sea Otter Fund — which supports the California Coastal Conservancy’s habitat programs and the Department of Fish & Game’s marine wildlife research and enforcement programs — needs another $31,000 in donations to remain as one of the check-off charities on the state tax form. Proponents of otter protection are calling on late tax filers to donate to the fund in order to reach the $258,563 limit required to stay on the form.

Leading the campaign donation charge is the Defenders of Wildlife, whose representative Jim Curland said in a statement: “In order to save California’s sea otters, we must understand why they are dying, and researchers can’t do that without vital funding from the California Sea Otter Fund. Time is running out for late tax-filers to donate to the fund, which still needs to raise more than $31,000 in the next five months to stay on the state tax form next year.”

But the interpretation of the count seems to be revealing a rift in the sea otter community, as The Otter Project’s Steve Shimek explained in his organization’s announcement, “The press release distributed by the U.S. Geologic Survey, the agency conducting sea otter research, says that the population is in decline and the agency calls for more money for their research; yet when you read the actual results of the survey, they counted more otters than last year.” Shimek’s release further explained, “The spring 2010 survey found 2719 otters, slightly up from last year’s count of 2654. The ‘decline’ statement comes from the agency using a three year running average to dampen the impact of a single year’s count.”

Altogether, Shimek is “very uncertain” about the count and is advocating for ending the no otter zone in Southern California, improving water quality to reduce disease, setting aside more habitat as Marine Protected Areas, and preventing catastrophes like oil spills.

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