The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced this week it will consider removing Endangered Species Act protections from the southern sea otter pending a comprehensive status review. Southern sea otters, also called California sea otters, were listed as a threatened species in 1977. Historically, they numbered in the hundreds of thousands across the North Pacific Ocean but were brought to near-extinction as a result of the maritime fur trade.
Though populations have been clawing their way back since, some environmentalists worry the loss of federal safeguards would come too soon. “Southern sea otters aren’t out of the woods yet, and it’d be dangerously premature to strip Endangered Species Act protection from these imperiled and ecologically important animals,” said Dr. Kristin Carden, PhD, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, who also noted otters are critical to maintaining the balance of the near-shore kelp ecosystems. “Their population numbers are fluctuating, the species is likely not meeting recovery criteria, and these otters occupy a tiny fraction of their historic range.”
Last year’s Huntington Beach oil spill was a reminder of the ongoing threat to otters and other wildlife from the oil industry’s aging infrastructure, Carden continued. “These otters still need federal protection, and they deserve an ambitious effort to bring them back to Northern California and other areas where they once flourished,” she said.