The southern sea otter is finally free to return to southern California!!! Sea otters are an iconic marine mammal of the Northern Pacific coast, but when was the last time you looked out onto the Santa Monica Bay to see a swimming raft of otters? Probably never, because the Santa Monica Bay was located in a controversial management zone named after its clear purpose, the No-Otter Zone. This week the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) made a historic decision to end the No-Otter Zone and allow otter to return to southern California.
Historically, sea otters occupied the entire northern Pacific coastline in populations estimated between 150,000 and 300,000. In the 18th and 19th centuries sea otters were aggressively hunted by humans for their luxurious pelts. By the early 1900s sea otters were thought to be extinct from California. A small population was found off the coast of Big Sur in 1938 from which all of the southern sea otters today are descendants from. Since then, efforts have been made to help sea otter populations rebound; however, populations today (less than 3,000) are still a small fraction of historic populations.
The No-Otter Zone (formerly located from Point Conception to the Mexico border) was established in 1987 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The idea was to help expand sea otter populations and help conserve otters in the event of a disaster (i.e. oil spill). Within the No-Otter Zone otters were not protected and could be subject to abuse, capture, harassment or translocation to San Nicolas Island. Since the creation of the No-Otter Zone, sea otter populations have been unable to establish on San Nicolas Island rendering the translocation project a failure.
After a long awaited decision, FWS has decided to end the No-Otter Zone. For the first time in 25 years otters can now enjoy the southern California coast without risking their lives.
Can you imagine looking out into the Santa Monica Bay and seeing a mother otter swimming with her pup? It will likely be a long time before the otters make their way down the coast, but one day I would love to take my kids to the beach to see the otters and tell them with pride that we helped free the otter.
To learn more about this issue check out our press release here.