The federal Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that southern sea otters of California will be free to swim where they wish, thanks to the official lifting of the “otter-free zone” off the coast of California.
Until the 19th century, sea otters swam from the western coast of Mexico all the way north to San Francisco. Unfortunately, their thick, soft fur was irresistible to fur traders and their numbers dropped to as low as fifteen individuals.
Thanks to conservation efforts, there are now about 2,800 California sea otters. Should their numbers rise above 3,090 they could even be taken off the endangered species list. A healthy otter population could help to replenish Southern California’s coastal ecosystem as their presence is very good news for kelp forests, which provide a home for hundreds of species.
The otters have faced numerous obstacles including well-intentioned but misguided efforts to limit them to a specific “zone.” In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to establish a separate population of otters in Southern California by moving 140 to San Nicolas Island. Doing so was meant to alleviate the concerns of fishermen and the U. S. Navy, which conducts training operations in the very waters the migrating otters swam into.
The otters, however, simply swam where they wanted to, back up to areas that had been designated “otter free zones.” It took ten years for the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a formal decision to eliminate the no-otter zone.
The rescinding of the otter-free zone is certainly good news, on top of President Obama’s decision to add more than 2,700 square miles off the Northern California coast to the national marine sanctuary system, doubling its size and protecting the area from oil and gas drilling permanently. Now the otters can do as they have for centuries and swim in the waters off the central coast of California.
Happy Ottersday ^_^