By Christina Beck / Christian Science Monitor / Sept. 21, 2016
In a near victory for California sea otters, biologists are cautiously optimistic about the future of the state’s southern sea otter population after the annual otter census counted more than 3,000 individuals this year.
Although otter population growth has delighted scientists, however, there are also worrying signs that the population range is contracting, a factor that can restrict long term recovery.
“The population index has exceeded 3,090 for the first time, and that’s encouraging,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) southern sea otter recovery coordinator Lilian Carswell, “but sustained population growth will require range expansion.”
While 3,090 may seem like an odd number, it is a significant one for biologists, since otter censuses must show at least that many individuals in the total population for three years in a row before the USFWS will consider taking the otter off the threatened species list.
Most of the population growth appears to have occurred in the center of the otters’ typical range. A greater abundance of sea urchins, a popular otter snack, likely contributed to the surging otter population.