California sea otter population showing signs of recovery

MORRO BAY, Calif. (KGO) -- The California sea otter was on the brink of extinction, but now, for the first time in generations, they're showing signs of recovery.

California sea otters and their pups are getting a lot of attention on the central coast of California.

"When otters were first protected, it was thought that otters were extinct in California," CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Mike Harris said.

Harris said sea otters are showing up in record numbers in Morro Bay. "It's good news. For a number of years, almost a decade, we have seen very little to no growth in the sea otter population in California and we've had very high rates of mortality," he said.

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Once on the brink of extinction, the California sea otters are now showing signs of recovery.

Sea otters were hunted to near extinction, their luxurious fur prized for its softness. Experts say 16,000 sea otters once swam along the coast. By 1911, there were just 50 living near Big Sur.

"In the past, otters occupied the entire pacific rim, from Japan to the Aleutians, all the way down our west coast into Baja," Harris said.

This year, for the first time since population goals were set in the 1980s, researchers have counted more than 3,000 sea otters and pups on California's central coast.

One reason their numbers are on the rise may be because another species is struggling. An outbreak of Starfish Wasting Syndrome may be responsible for a dramatic decline in starfish on the central coast.

Starfish eat sea urchin, a staple of the sea otter's diet. Fewer starfish mean more urchins for hungry otters.

At the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, they are gearing up to take care of injured or sick sea otters. Until now, most otters were treated in Morro Bay or at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

"We wanted to increase the capacity of the number or otters that could be rehabilitated, so we've done some modifications of our facilities here to be able to hold sea otters and provide them the care they needed. You know, with the eventual goal to release them back out into the wild," The Marine Mammal Center's Shawn Johnson said.

Otters once called the bay home. With the right care and a little luck, they may find their way back.

While they're cute, otters are known to have bad tempers. If you see one, keep your distance. They don't respond well to human interaction.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel
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