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125 years of science for America 1879-2004
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New USGS Video Available Online: "Precipice of Survival: The Southern Sea Otter"

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Sea otters delight children and adults alike with their endearing faces and behavior, and even scientists find them fascinating creatures. California's threatened sea otters are the focus of collaborative ongoing studies by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists and colleagues. Their story is the subject of a new USGS video, entitled "Precipice of Survival: The Southern Sea Otter," that can be viewed on demand online.

Half a million to perhaps several million sea otters are believed to have once ranged from central Baja California to Japan. The Pacific maritime fur trade, beginning in the mid-1700s, reduced the sea-otter population to small groups scattered across their range. About a dozen remnant colonies survived at the time of their first being protected in the early 20th century, and with protection these colonies began to recover. In California, a colony of perhaps 50 or fewer animals remained off the rugged Big Sur coast in the early 20th century, and this colony has since expanded to about 2,500 animals along California's central coast.

The sea otter is a keystone organism of kelp forests. One of the sea otter's favorite foods is sea urchins, which feed on the kelp; thus, changes in the sea-otter population affect all levels of the kelp-forest ecosystem. Slow population growth and recent declines during the 1990s have been challenges facing the California sea otter. Scientists now know that elevated mortality is hindering the southern sea otter's recovery, and they are closely examining the causes of deaths in wild sea otters.

"Precipice of Survival: The Southern Sea Otter," USGS General Interest Product 3, is a 48-minute video that shows:

  • How scientists survey and monitor wild sea otters
  • How scientists capture wild sea otters, track their movements, and document their behavior
  • How veterinarians surgically implant devices that will allow researchers to closely follow individual animals as they live and die in the wild
  • How necropsies—animal autopsies—of fresh sea-otter carcasses tell the scientists the causes of death for some sea otters
  • How captive sea otters provide additional insight into how sea otters make their living

The program was shot in high-definition video and produced by the USGS Western Ecological Research Center and the Western Region Office of Communications; it was produced and directed by Stephen Wessells.

To view the video online, visit the "Precipice of Survival: The Southern Sea Otter" Web page.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Collapsing Populations of Marine Mammals—the North Pacific's Whaling Legacy?
October 2003
California Sea Otter Numbers Are Up for the 2003 Census
October 2003
California Sea Otter Numbers Slide for Second Straight Year
July 2002
What's Wrong with the California Sea Otter?
February 2002

Related Web Sites
USGS Western Ecological Research Center
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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Images and Information About Recent Hurricanes

Drilling Monitoring Wells in the Dry Tortugas

American Samoa's Resilient Coral Reefs

Seepage Samplers in Ashumet Pond

Research Wastewater - A Potential Threat to Florida Keys

Gulf of Mexico Vulnerable to Hurricanes

Outreach USGS Pacific Science Center Open House

Exhibit Designers Interested in Hurricane Research

USGS Hosts Science-Learning Session

Meetings Shore and Beach Preservation Conference

Deep Water Coral Research Workshop

Awards Jim Estes Wins Shoemaker Award

Four Publications Win Shoemaker Awards

Gene Shin Wins Shifting Baselines Contest

Staff & Center News NMSF Regional Office Moving to St. Petersburg, FL

Elena Nilsen Joins Coastal and Marine Geology Team

USGS Vessel To Test Counter-Terrorism Equipment

Dave Reid Wins Triathlon

Publications Southern Sea Otter Video Online

Human Influence on San Francisco Bay Floor

U.S. Coastal Cliffs

October Publications List

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Updated December 02, 2016 @ 12:09 PM (JSS)