Ready or Not Here They Come

Ready or Not Here They Come

Ready or Not Here They Come: Sea Otters making their way back to SoCal

The news just keeps getting better. After ending the No-Otter Zone this past January, there is even more exciting news: a sea otter spotted in Southern California.

Some readers might be aware of the No-Otter Zone, which established a border where sea otters could not travel south of Point Conception near Santa Barbara. The sea otters, from 1987 to 1990, were relocated to San Nicolas Island, in the Channel Islands of Southern California, in hopes of avoiding harm in case of an oil spill or some other catastrophic event. At the time of relocating sea otters to San Nicolas Island a No-Otter Zone was designated for the benefit of fishermen, due to concerns that sea otters interfered with their livelihoods. If there was any sight of this furry creature in Southern California, it was to be promptly relocated to the north. Luckily, this January marked the official end to this otter-free zone by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

After decades of limiting their range expansion southward, sea otters may now roam as far south as they please. It was evident to many that the sea otters’ would not stop traveling south, and there was no use to keep exhausting efforts to stop this natural behavior. In addition, the movement of sea otters to San Nicolas Island, also called translocation, over that 3-year period caused harm to some sea otters; some could not even survive the move. The sea otter population was also not thriving under such range restriction; after years of stagnant growth and declines in the population of this endangered species, it was time to take action.

As early as May 2013, a sea otter was spotted in Orange County. Scott Seaton snapped a photo of a sea otter floating along the Peter’s Landing Marina in Huntington Harbor.  It’s exciting to see sea otters being spotted in southern California again. Joy surges through many of us knowing that the hard work of several organizations, including Friends of the Sea Otter, is making an impact.

Witnessing these furry faces reestablish themselves in the habitats of their sea otter ancestors, encourages faith that the population will grow. It is possible that because of the otter-free zone being lifted, more sea otters will be seen taking advantage of their former stomping grounds and ultimately grow in numbers and we will see a positive growth trend. Currently, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, the current 3-year average, based from last year (new 3-year average should be released in late July 2013) is about 2,800 sea otters along the California coast (http://www.werc.usgs.gov/ProjectSubWebPage.aspx?SubWebPageID=2&ProjectID=91). It is down from previous years.  What we need is a sustained increase in population size and growth trends.  This, ideally, can begin the process of crossing-off their name from the endangered species list. Observing a growing population like this would be a thrilling success for many sea otter enthusiasts.

All in all, keep your eyes peeled for these charming swimmers. If you’re lucky you might spot one this summer!

 

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