Sea otters community under threat
Dateline: California - 3 May 2003
Date: 05/04/2003 04:00 AM
1. California coastline
2. Otter swimming in sea
3. Otters on sandbank
4. SOUNDBITE (English) Chris Harrold, Monterey Bay Aquarium:
"We're getting about twice the number of sea otter deaths now than say we were getting six months ago."
5. Various Monterey Bay Aquarium staff carrying out necropsy (animal autopsy) on otter
6. Various X-rays in Monterey Bay Aquarium
7. SOUNDBITE (English) Dave Jessup, California Department of Fish and Game:
"We're seeing them die of all the things we've seen them die before of, but in much greater numbers."
8. Various Monterey Bay Aquarium staff carrying out necropsy on otter
9. California coastline
10. Otter coming out of sea
11. SOUNDBITE (English) Greg Spencer, US Fish & Wildlife Services:
"We're losing animals in what are considered prime age. These are animals that are reproducing."
12. Various sea otters in sea
13. Otter in aquarium
The number of sea otters found dead in the US state of California last month was twice as high as normal, alarming officials and environmentalists.
Once a common site off the California coastline, the otters are dying at a record pace - 91 since the start of the year.
Last month alone, 47 dead otters washed ashore, more than double the 10-year average.
Scientists say they can't begin to work on a solution, because they don't yet understand the problem.
Animal autopsies, or necropsies, haven't revealed any unusual causes of death.
Twenty-five percent of the otters have been killed by a parasite normally found in cat faeces - which shouldn't be present in the water at all.
It could be a sign that sewage from nearby homes is washing into the bay.
But it's only a single clue in a mystery that's baffled wildlife experts.
The sea otter has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1977.
And over the past 10 years, their population hasn't grown at all.
Prized for their fur, the 20-thousand otters that once lived along the California coastline were hunted to near extinction.
Today, there are fewer than 22-hundred, with scientists now saying the time may come in this lifetime when there are none left at all.