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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:
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.
in this issue:
Southern Sea Otter Video Online
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