Well folks, we did it!
After a 25-year ban, California sea otters are now free to float along the entire coast without being captured and hauled back to Northern California.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ended its “Southern Sea Otter Translocation Program” on Tuesday, Dec. 18, which forbid otters from paddling south of Point Conception — where the Santa Barbara Channel meets the Pacific Ocean — to the Mexican border.
The “No-Otter” Zone was established in 1987 as a way to manage dwindling otter populations. The adorable-faced marine mammal once numbered 16,000-strong until they were hunted to near extinction, mostly for fur, at the beginning of the 20th century.
Out of fear that an environmental disaster, like an oil spill, might wipe out what was left of the mainland population, 140 otters were moved to California’s San Nicolas Island in hopes of building a backup population. An otter-free zone was also set up as a concession to commercial fisherman who bemoaned the animal’s impact on shellfish stocks (otters really like to eat sea urchin, crab, clams, mussels and sails).
Environmentalists have long opposed the otter-free zone because it messes with otters’ regular feeding and swimming habits. It’s simply not natural.
Beyond that, the relocation plan didn’t work and the otter-free ban was hard to enforce. Otters, being typical otters, were oblivious to the “no-crossing” line and those shoved onto San Nicolas preferred the mainland to their remote island home.
“All but about 11 of the 140 otters swam away from San Nicolas Island and back to their home waters,” Amy Larson of KSBW.com writes.
“Trying to tell a marine mammal to stay on one side of an imaginary line across the water was a dumb idea,” Steve Shimek, executive director of the Otter Project told Larson.
The Environmental defence centre sued the federal government in 2009 to get the translocation program overturned.
Meanwhile, the California sea otter population is making a slow recovery. There are 2,792 otters along the coast, according to the latest count by the U.S. Geological Survey.
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