Santa Cruz Good Times

Sunday
May 24th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Otters Online

news otterSanta Cruz-based website aims to educate and inspire the public about sea otters

If you live in California, you’ve probably heard about the plight of sea otters. You may have even donated a few income tax dollars to them, via Assembly Bill 971, approved almost unanimously last June by California legislators. But Drew Wharton, founder of seaotters.com, thinks that the fight to ensure the future of the southern (or California) sea otter can’t stop there.

Launched on the 23rd anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Santa Cruz-based website aims to make the research surrounding sea otter conservation efforts more accessible.

“The southern sea otter has been listed as threatened since 1977,” Wharton says, referencing the tenuous status of the iconic California critter.

There are currently barely more than 2,700 southern sea otters in the Central Coast area, according to the most recent census conducted by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). High mortality rates, rather than low reproductive rates, are commonly viewed as the culprit for this statistic.

“Those elevated rates are really among prime-aged adults, and that’s not good,” Wharton says.

Tim Tinker, a research biologist for the USGS and an adjunct professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, says that mortality rates are especially damaging if they’re high among breeding females.

“Although pups are the most vulnerable to limited resources, high mortality rates among reproductive females affects population the most,” Tinker says.

Census data is just part of the research being conducted by the six entities that contribute information to seaotters.com. These groups are UCSC, UC Davis, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game, operating under the blanket name of “The Sea Otter Alliance.”

“Everyone has a different role to play,” Wharton says. “From Fish and Game handling necropsies to the Monterey Bay Aquarium doing surrogate and rehab programs, this is an incredibly collaborative effort. We’ve all come together with what we can bring to the table.”

news otter2There are only 2,700 southern sea otters in the Central Coast area—a problem that a new Santa Cruz-based website, seaotters.com, hopes to address.For Wharton, an important point to stress is the impact that land-based activities have on the health of the southern sea otter and other coastal species.

“When we look at the multitude of threats facing the [sea otter] population, 40 percent of the problem is infectious disease,” Wharton says. “And most infectious diseases are caused by land sources.”

Still, the issue of sea otter mortality rates is not a simple one. James Estes is an ex-employee of the USGS, where he worked as a research scientist for 40 years. Now he is an adjunct professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC. As an overall sea otter expert, Estes says that the disease aspect of elevated sea otter mortality rates is complicated.

“We don’t really see much of a problem with the living mammals, but the dead ones that we find on the beach are really diseased,” Estes says. “Is [the California coast] a polluted environment, or are they succumbing to diseases through the natural processes of death? It’s been oversimplified in some circles; people take it for granted that there is a large disease presence.”

Incidents of disease and other forms of contamination aren’t the only vagaries in sea otter conservation. Speculation surrounds the issue of flat-lining population numbers, as well.

“We don’t understand why the population isn’t increasing,” Estes says. “The only [initiatives] that make sense are protecting their habitats and reducing pollutants into the ocean. It’s a really hard problem, because you’re dealing with a population that isn’t doing anything.”

Wharton hopes that the natural visibility and popularity of sea otters will help to raise awareness about a broader spectrum of coastal issues.

“They are such charismatic animals that a lot of people can relate to,” he says. “If we can start the conversation with the threats facing one species, then the conversation can broaden to be talking about our role in the health of the ocean as a whole. It all starts with education. We can make a difference simply by reconsidering our own habits and encouraging others to do the same.”

Tinker also believes that education is integral to understanding the very real link between land-based human activities and the welfare of ocean-going species.

“We really can educate ourselves about anthropogenic impacts, and how we can be better stewards of an environment that receives so much of what we put into it,” Tinker says.

With southern sea otter mortality rates increasing and populations stagnating, Wharton says it’s not a matter of if, but when, people will step up.

“We have a huge impact on the health of the ocean,” Wharton says. “We can do better. We have to do better.”

Comments (1)Add Comment
...
written by Emmanuel Hernandez, May 07, 2012
The writer of this article has inspired me by the depth of his words in conveying the seriousness of the plight of these sea animals and humanities connection to their current troubles. He illustrates very well the scope of the problem, context of the sea otters natural wonder and the need for people to become more educated and proactive about the impact they are having on these and many other animals lives around the globe. Thank you, E.H

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Gate Openers

Up-and-coming artists like Ryan Bingham are a great reason to show up early to the Santa Cruz American Music Festival

 

Gemini Sun, Pentecost, Shavuot—Enlightenment and Gladness

As the sun enters Gemini on Sunday, sign of speaking, communication, thinking, inter-relations, writing and understanding languages, the feast days of Pentecost & Shavuot (Catholic and Jewish festivals) occur. During Pentecost’s 50 days after Easter, tongues of fire appear above the heads of the disciples, providing them with the ability to understand all languages and all feelings hidden in the minds and hearts of humanity. It’s recorded that Pentecost began with a loud noise, which happened in an upper room (signifying the mind). The Christ (World Teacher) told his disciples (after his ascension) when encountering a man at a well carrying a water pot (signs for Age of Aquarius) to follow him to an upper room. There, the Holy Spirit (Ray 3 of Divine Intelligence) would overshadow them, expand their minds, give them courage and enable them to teach throughout the world, speaking all languages and thus able to minister to the true needs of a “seeking” humanity. Pentecost (50 days, pentagram, Ray 5, Venus, concrete and scientific knowledge, the Ray of Aquarius) sounds dramatic, impressive and scary: The loud noise, a thunderous rush of wind and then “tongues of fire” above the heads of each disciple (men and women). Fire has purpose. It purifies, disintegrates, purges, transforms and liberates (frees) us from the past. This was the Holy Spirit (Ray 3, love and wisdom) being received by the disciples, so they would teach in the world and inform humanity of the Messiah (Christ), who initiated the new age (Pisces) and gave humanity the new law (adding to the 10 Commandments of the Aries Age) to Love (Ray 2) one another. Note: Gemini is also Ray 2. Shavuot is the Jewish Festival of Gladness, the First Fruits Festival celebrating the giving of the 10 Commandments to Moses as the Aries Age was initiated. Thus, we have two developmental stages here, Jewish festival of the Old Testament. Pentecost of the New Testament. We have gladness, integrating both.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Off Her Meds

Kristin Wiig runs wild—and transcends her sketch comedy roots—as a truly strange character ‘Welcome to Me’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Flats Bistro

Pizza with an artisan twist comes to Aptos Beach

 

What’s your take on Santa Cruz locals?

Santa Cruz locals are really friendly once you know them. I think a lot of them have a hard time leaving, and I would too. Ryan Carle, Santa Cruz, Biologist

 

Soquel Vineyards

If Soquel Vineyards partners Peter and Paul Bargetto and Jon Morgan were walking down the street wearing their winning wine competition medals, you’d hear them coming from a mile away. This year was particularly rewarding for the Bargettos and Morgan—they won two Double Gold Medals and five Gold Medals at January’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.

 

Enlightened Flavors

Squash & Blossom’s artisanal alternative-flour delights, beet kvass from Cafe Ivéta, and the Santa Cruz Baroque Festival