This week, in honor of World Otter Day, conservation groups are looking to raise awareness about efforts to restore sea otters along more areas of the California coast.
Right now, sea otter populations are mostly concentrated on the Central Coast, between Santa Barbara and an area just south of San Francisco, hemmed in by predatory white sharks.
Andy Johnson, California representative for Defenders of Wildlife, said they used to live all the way up the north coast.
“We’d like to, at some point, maybe shift some otters northward and get them into cooler waters, where sea otters used to be before they were hunted to near extinction,” Johnson explained. “Let them maybe help restore some of the kelp along the north coast, and improve the biodiversity of those habitats.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s surrogacy program has successfully reintroduced sea otters in nearby Elkhorn Slough.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is due to release a report to Congress this summer on the feasibility of expanding the program. Otters save kelp beds by eating sea urchins, which can devour the kelp if not kept in check.
Johnson noted the otter population has rebounded over the past century, but has a long way to go to fully recover.
“We think that there were between 16,000 and 20,000 otters historically on the California coast,” Johnson reported. “Right now, there are about 3,000 animals. There were only about maybe 50 otters back in the early 1900s.”
This week, the California State Assembly also passed a resolution to proclaim the 20th annual Sea Otter Awareness Week, which takes place Sep. 18-24.