California Programs

California Program

Friends of the Sea Otter (FSO) was established in California and this is where we have been based ever since the organization was founded in 1968.  Our offices are in the Monterey Bay area.  Because of this, a large part of our focus on sea otter conservation and protection efforts are in California.

The California or southern sea otter population is one of only two listed populations of sea otters listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.  The other population is the

Steve Lonhart   SIMoN NOAA 9 moss landing 300x200 California Programs

(Photo: Steve Lonhart)

Southwest Alaska stock.  The southern sea otter was listed in 1977 and at the time of the listing, the primary reason for listing was the vulnerability of the population to a large catastrophic event like an oil spill.  Besides oil spills, the population over the years has suffered from a myriad of threats.

The Threats

The variety of threats to the well-being of the southern sea otter population have included:  negative interactions with fishing gear, disease, food resource limitations, shark attacks, oil spills, to name a few. Currently the top two concerns appear to be disease and shark attacks.  But, researchers aren’t entirely sure about what constitutes all of the threats to the population and studies are ongoing to better understand what plagues the southern sea otter population and why it isn’t growing as it should.  More recently the theory as to why the sea otter population is not growing in California and is stagnant in its growth trend is the nature of the coastline in California.  We have a one-dimensional coastline in California as compared to the two-dimensional coastlines of much of Alaska.  In Alaska, there are areas that sea otters can expand into.  In California, expansion is limited to either the north or south.  So, the failure of the population in California to grow can be explained by this.  What needs to be done about this is in the beginning stages of discussion.  Stay tuned!

What is FSO doing?

FSO has been involved in protecting California’s sea otter population and its habitat for four and a half decades.  Our work is to advocate for policy changes and protections that will ensure the long-term survival of this species.  We have been involved in:

  • protecting sea otters from negative interactions with fisheries;
  • allowing for the chance for sea otter recovery by opposing the continuation of the no-otter zone and translocation program in California;
  • addressing water quality issues that are impacting sea otters and sea otter habitat;
  • promoting the California Sea Otter Fund tax check-off;
  • funding sea otter research and locating funding for sea otter research;
  • facilitating and organizing the annual Sea Otter Awareness Week; and
  • monitoring of protection and conservation needs for the population in California and being ready and prepared to advocate for policy changes that will help the population recover.