Monterey, CA –The U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center (USGS-WERC) released their annual sea otter survey count for 2012 this week and the news is good. The results were presented with cautious optimism since “the southern sea otter population continues its pattern of tepid recovery.”  If you read the Spring 2012 Mainland California Sea Otter Census Results summary you get a detailed account of the sea otter population survey and the devil is in the details, as they say.
All of the numbers are up across the board. The 3-year average of sea otters increased 1.5% to 2792, up from 2711 in 2010. The total raw sea otter count was 2865 which is an increase of 5.1% from the 2010 spring survey which only counted 2719. The pup count is also up from 267 in 2010 to 379 in 2012, which is the third highest pup count on record. There were more pups counted (relative to the previous census) in 10 coastal segments and 10 pups were seen southeast of Pt. Conception, which is the highest pup count on record and only the second time pups have been observed in this area during the spring census. There were also a total of 79 sea otters (including the 10 pups) counted southeast of Point Conception – 26 more than in spring 2010.
This is great news considering the population experienced back to back years of record sea otter deaths in 2010 and 2011 and there was no survey data for 2011 to let us know how the population was faring due to poor weather conditions. We cannot rely on just one year’s worth of data to tell us how the sea otter population is doing because there is year-to-year environmental variability and other external factors that impact the population. The ocean is a very dynamic system and we have to factor the variation into the equation. Even though these results are only for one year, they are still encouraging given the challenges sea otters continue to endure.
The Otter Project believes that it is important to keep the big picture in mind when it comes to the recovery status of the California sea otter population but we also believe we should celebrate when there is some good news about how the population is doing today.
If you would like to learn more about California sea otters or how you can help, please visit our website at www.otterproject.org. You can also become a member or help us continue our work with a much appreciated donation by clicking www.otterproject.org/donate-now/.
 The USGS uses the spring survey count to determine the 3-year running average (population index), which is the metric the US Fish and Wildlife Service uses to assess the current status of the population.
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