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California Sea Otters—2005 Survey Numbers Dip But Overall Population Trend Remains Up
Released: 7/5/2005

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Gloria Maender 1-click interview
Phone: 520-670-5596

Brian Hatfield 1-click interview
Phone: 805-927-3893

Jim Estes 1-click interview
Phone: 831-459-2820

News Editors: Graphs and other information on spring surveys of California sea otter population will be online at: http://www.werc.usgs.gov/otters/ca-surveydata.html (Spring Surveys, 1983-2005) http://www.werc.usgs.gov/otters/ca-survey3yr.html (Spring Surveys, 3-year averages) For B-roll, contact Don Becker, becker@usgs.gov or 605-594-6175

Observers tallied a total of 2,735 California sea otters for the 2005 spring survey, led by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The 2005 total showed a 3.2 percent decrease in otters from the 2004 record high of 2,825.

To assess overall population trends, however, little can be inferred from a single year’s count. Instead, 3-year running averages are used to graph the path, as recommended by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan. This approach reduces the influence of any anomalous counts in a given year.

"Despite the dip in this year’s tally, the latest 3-year running average of the 3 most recent spring counts is up 8 percent over the previous average, to almost 2,700 sea otters," said survey organizer Brian Hatfield, a USGS biologist in California. "The meaning of the 2005 count will become clearer with additional years of averaged data points."

Greg Sanders, southern sea otter recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, also noted that there were large numbers of sea otters counted at the southern end of the range during this survey. "Sea otter range expansion into southern California is something that we will be examining closely over the next year."

The spring 2005 California sea otter survey was conducted May 6-June 16, covering about 375 miles of California coast, from Half Moon Bay south to Santa Barbara. Overall viewing conditions were good to very good, comparable to 2004, and slightly less favorable than for 2003. The spring survey is a cooperative effort of the USGS, California Department of Fish and Game’s Marine Wildlife Care and Research Center, 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.

A team of scientists from federal and state agencies, universities and the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been working collaboratively to determine causes of mortality in sea otters, and the relative proportion of various threats. A USGS video about this research effort, "Precipice of Survival: The Southern Sea Otter," can be viewed online via video streaming: http://online.wr.usgs.gov/outreach/index.html.

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