Case Study: Sea Otter Deaths a Mystery

Michael Williamson (whe_william@flo.org)
Mon, 29 Jul 1995 21:42:27

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From: Michael Williamson <WHE_WILLIAM@FLO.ORG>
Subject: Case Study: Sea Otter Deaths a Mystery
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Date:         Thu, 27 Jul 1995 06:33:07 EST
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     Otter deaths a mystery
 
     MONTEREY, Calif., July 25 (UPI) -- The cause of the deaths of as
     many as 13 female sea otters over the last 10 days in the
     Monterey Bay area remains a mystery, marine biologists said Tuesday.
 
     Julie Hymer, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said tests have shown
     that at least two of the otters were poisoned, but it was not
     known if the poisonings were intentional or what toxin killed the
     mammals.
 
     "It seems unusual that there's a concentrated area where these
     mortalities are taking place," she said.
 
     Hymer said the aquarium retrieved 12 of the sea otter carcasses
     between July 16 and Tuesday, while another reportedly washed out
     to sea. All the otters were female and all but one was found in
     Monterey's inner harbor or nearby Del Monte Beach.
 
     "What is going on?" Hymer asked. "We've never had so many 'dead
     calls.' Is this something naturally happening or is there some
     foul play?"
 
     Jack Ames, an environmental specialist with the state Department
     of Fish & Game, said the otters appear to be underweight.
 
     "They're mostly real thin and had kind of gone downhill for at
     least a period of a week or so, maybe longer," Ames said.
 
     Eleven of the carcasses were being shipped to the National
     Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc., for examination and
     toxicology tests. A preliminary necropsy has revealed that the livers
     of two of the mammals were discolored.
 
     Ellen Faurot-Daniels, a spokeswoman for the group, Friends of the
     Sea Otter, said such a result indicates poisoning and that
     biologists are treating the deaths as "highly unusual."
 
     "The fishermen have a conflict with the sea lions," she said.
     "Maybe the poison was aimed at them and the sea otters just got
     in the way."
 
     The sea otter has been listed as threatened on the Endangered
     Species Act list with 2,400 living along a 250-mile span of the
     California coast, but has been making a slow, steady comeback.
 
     However, Faurot-Daniels said the spring count found a noticable
     dropoff this year.
 
     "We were already concerned about the otter," she said. "There had
     been a pretty steady 5 percent growth of the herd until this year
     when the spring count found less than a 1 percent growth rate. So
     instead of 100 to 115 animals joining the population we had a mere 18
     this year and now we've lost 13.