By John R. Platt | Takepart.com
This southern sea otter is settling down to rest in a small patch of Egregia feather boa kelp. Image: Lilian Carswell/USFWS
It's hard to imagine that an animal as wonderful as the California sea otter almost disappeared from the planet.
Once upon a time, tens of thousands of sea otters floated and swam off California's coast. But the fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries took care of that, nearly wiping out the subspecies, and many people believed that it had gone extinct. But all of that changed in 1938 when the last raft—or group—of around 50 sea otters were found alive and well near the Bixby Canyon Bridge in Big Sur.
That discovery was just the start. Buoyed by conservation efforts from groups such as Friends of the Sea Otter—and later by legal protection under the Endangered Species Act and other laws—the furry marine mammals have made a remarkable recovery over the past 70 years.
Today, there are 2,944 sea otters swimming in California's coastal waters, according to data released this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. Their habitat now ranges from Pigeon Point, north of Monterey Bay, down past Pismo Beach to Gaviota State Beach, just above Santa Barbara. A small population also lives farther out to sea on San Nicolas Island.
Although this year's count represents a new high point since the otters' brush with extinction, the news isn't all good. The 2014 number has only grown by five otters since last year, an indication that the population growth has effectively stopped. ...more