Sea Otters reflect ocean health

Sea Life | | January 8, 2010 at 15:29

Sea Otter and PupHello Ocean Lovers!

Every Other Breath is from the Ocean

contributed by Carol Georgi

Here is a critter from our San Luis Obispo County coastal waters for you to enjoy!

Please support the movement to establish the Central Coast Extension of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
for more info go to

Southern Sea Otter

Enhydra lutris nereis

Sea otters are indicators of the ocean’s health for surfers and California’s nearshore ecosystem.

California sea otters eat, sleep, mate and are born and raised in the water. Bundled in dense fur, they live in the nearshore ocean or estuary during their 10-20 years of life. As such, they are exposed to many of the same diseases and toxins as humans. Therefore, their health is an indicator of how clean the water is while we surf, swim, and enjoy eating local seafood. Everyday chemicals like car oil and pesticides, as well as bacteria from cat feces are being found in otter tissue. The contaminants make their way into the otter diet through shellfish, which are filter feeders that soak up chemicals in the water.

Sea otters are declining in California. For the first time in nearly 10 years, the 2009 spring population census shows a decline in the California sea otter population, and some researchers believe the otters’ food may contain deadly pathogens.

Report sea otter posterWhat is killing sea otters ?
Disease and Contamination in California Sea Otters

Increase in diseases
*Intestinal worms (acanthocephalan worms)
*bacterial infections
*fungal infection, coccidioidomycosis or San Joaquin Valley fever caused by inhaling fungal spores
*brain infection (protozoal encephalitis), caused by parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is carried from land in cat litter feces.  One way this organism is migrating to the ocean is by flushable cat litter. Do not flush cat litter feces down the toilet.

Increase in pollution
*Agricultural runoff, organochlorine compounds and pesticides that build up, or bioaccumulate
*polychlorinated biphenyl (otherwise known as PCBs)
*heavy metals
*domoic acid, a toxin produced by decaying algae may be linked to the increase in pollutants in our nearshore waters.
*Tributyltin, from boat paints
*Oil pollution can cause hypothermia and organ damage in sea otters.
U.C. Davis Sea Otter Research website.
Sea otter extinction could trigger a devastating chain of events in the aquatic ecosystem. Without sea otters to feed on sea urchins, the sea urchin population would explode and destroy the kelp forests on which it feeds. These kelp forests are the key habitats for many other species, including fish, snails and crabs.
Our health may depend on studying sea otters to determine what toxins, diseases, and other harmful substances are in the our local coastal waters.
If you find a dead or beached sea otter, please call 1-87-SEAOTTER

Sea Otter photos by Mike Baird,

We are urging the United States Senate to pass the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act (H.R. 556).  The U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill earlier this year with a vote of 316 to 107.  If approved, the bill will allocate $5 million annually for research and development for five years.  Part of the money will help researchers discover what is causing sea otter deaths.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a pre-written letter you can email to your senator to urge him or her to support the Act.

Will you please take action to support the passage of H.R. 556?