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California Sea-Otter Numbers Dip Again in 2006, But Overall Population Trend Remains Up

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Observers tallied a total of 2,692 California sea otters for the 2006 spring survey, led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The 2006 total showed a 1.6-percent decrease in sea otters from the 2005 count of 2,735. It is the second year of small decreases since a record-high number of sea otters were observed in spring 2004.

Graph showing the number of southern sea otters counted during spring surveys.
Above: Number of southern sea otters counted during spring surveys.

"Although down a little, the sea-otter count this spring is well within the variability of our counts," said survey organizer Brian Hatfield, a USGS biologist in California. "Next year's count will tell us more about whether we might actually be at the beginning of a downward trend again, which would be reflected in the 3-year running average."

The latest 3-year running average—the average of the totals from the spring counts of 2004, 2005, and 2006—is up 2.3 percent over the previous average, to 2,751 sea otters. To assess overall population trends, 3-year running averages of spring counts are used to reduce the influence of vagaries in any given year's count, as recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan.

Graph showing the number of southern sea otters counted during spring surveys, plotted as 3-year running averages.
Above: Number of southern sea otters counted during spring surveys, plotted as 3-year running averages. (Example: values for 2005 are the averages of the 2004, 2005, and 2006 counts.)

"Like last year, we are seeing a relatively large seasonal presence of sea otters southeast of Point Conception and pupping occurring in the area just to the north," said Lilian Carswell, a fish and wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We're paying close attention to the dynamics at the southern end of the range and their implications for sea-otter recovery."

The spring 2006 California sea-otter survey was conducted May 5-26, covering about 375 mi of California coast, from Half Moon Bay southward to Santa Barbara. Overall viewing conditions were good to very good, comparable to conditions of the past 2 years. The spring survey is a cooperative effort of the USGS, the California Department of Fish and Game's Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and many experienced and dedicated volunteers. The information gathered from spring surveys is used by Federal and State wildlife agencies in making decisions about the management of this small sea mammal.

For additional information about the 2006 California sea-otter survey, see Spring 2006 California Sea Otter Survey Results.

Related Sound Waves Stories
California Sea Otters—2005 Survey Numbers Dip, But Overall Population Trend Remains Positive
August 2005
New USGS Video Available Online: "Precipice of Survival: The Southern Sea Otter"
October 2004
California Sea-Otter Numbers Climb for Second Consecutive Year
July 2004
Collapsing Populations of Marine Mammals—the North Pacific's Whaling Legacy?
October 2003
California Sea Otter Numbers Are Up for the 2003 Census
July 2003
California Sea Otter Numbers Slide for Second Straight Year
July 2002
Congressional Briefing on California Sea Otter Research
March 2002
What's Wrong with the California Sea Otter?
February 2002

Related Web Sites
Spring 2006 California Sea Otter Survey Results
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Sea Otter Research
State of California
Sea Otter Research at WERC
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

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cover story:
Measuring Hurricane Impact Along the Louisiana Coastline

Submarine Ground-Water Discharge in Santa Barbara and Hood Canal

California Sea-Otter Numbers Dip in 2006, Overall Population Trent Positive

Research Lake Whitefish Returning to the Detroit River

Parasites, the Thread of Food Webs?

Outreach USGS Display in Florida Library

Meetings Genomic Aerobiology Workshop

Staff Barry Rosen to Lead USGS in Florida

Publications usSEABED: Pacific Coast Offshore Surficial Sediment Data Release

August 2006 Publications List

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