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Otter News 2000

Otters under threat from flooding (BBC Dec 15, 2000)
Rapid decline of the sea otter puzzles experts (Telegraph Sep 30, 2000)
Fears grow for otters' sanity (Telegraph Sep 14, 2000)
Freed otters massacre farm trout (Telegraph Jun 23, 2000)
Otters under threat on roads (BBC July 13, 2000)
Aleutian otters take a nosedive (CNN July 6, 2000)
Otter stolen from Oakland Zoo (CNN Jun 7, 2000)
Oil harms otters 10 years on (BBC May 23, 2000)
Otter rescue highlights wildlife worry (BBC Feb 11, 2000)

News Index

Otters under threat from flooding

(BBC Dec 15, 2000)

The recent floods have claimed some unexpected casualties - otters. Famous for their swimming skills, otters have been badly hit by flooding in the south of England.

The shear quantity of water gushing under bridges means otters cannot swim against the rapid current. Instead they try to cross the road and often get hit by cars.

In recent weeks, at least eight have been killed in this way in Wiltshire and Hampshire alone.

And the floodwaters themselves can also take their toll.

Otter cubs are born in a burrow which is usually around three feet above the river, recent flood levels have been way over that.

Under 15 weeks old their babies cannot swim and experts fear many could have drowned.

Hampshire Wildlife Trust spokesman Graham Roberts said there had been several otter fatalities.

"The water comes up, the velocity increases and sadly otters cannot get through the water and they are forced up onto the road," he said.


"Sadly our roads are more busy these days and they get killed."

Otters had been one of the few recent conservation success stories.

In the late 1950s they faced extinction, a victim of the threat from pollution from pesticides and changing habitats.

But their numbers had been increasing as rivers have become cleaner and food more plentiful.

Conservationists will have to wait until spring to see how badly that recovery has been set back.

Original story

Rapid decline of the sea otter puzzles experts

(Telegraph Sep 30, 2000)

A DRASTIC decline in the sea otter, one of the animal kindom's best-loved extroverts, has surprised scientists compiling the red list of endangered species, published this week by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Each year thousands of tourists watch the sea otter swimming on its back and using its chest as a dining table in the harbour at Monterey, California, where John Steinbeck set his novel Cannery Row.

The sardines which the cannery, now a museum, used to can, have been fished out by the shoal, now it is the otter which is in decline, although American scientists cannot or are reluctant to pinpoint the connection with fisheries.

The IUCN's otter specialist group said the mammal was declining at up a rate of upto four per cent off the Californian coast and at 90 per cent in Alaska. It is extinct already in Japan and at risk from poaching in Russia. The sea otter, absent from the 1996 red list, could be the victim of oil pollution, predation by killer whales and "conflict with fisheries and incidental kills". However, there is no conclusive theory.

Craig Hilton-Taylor, of the IUCN's Red List programme, based in Cambridge, said: "It doesn't add up. Something is going on behind the scenes."; The red list showed that a quarter of mammal species, one in eight bird species, a third of freshwater fish species and half the plants studied were now under threat of extinction.

The number of albatross species threatened was up from three to 16. The wandering albatross, other species of albatross and large petrel eat the bait from hooks set by long-line fishing vessels before they sink and are dragged to their deaths. Two fish species are newly listed as critically endangered: the common sawfish, once abundant in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic but extremely vulnerable to by-catch in other fisheries, and the Brazilian guitar fish.

The whale shark and the flapnosed hound shark were on the list for the first time. Britain has two new species listed as threatened: the small-eyed ray, recorded in the Bristol Channel, which is caught as a by-catch by trawlers, and a Cornish moss, ditrichum cornubicum, which grows only on copper mine waste.

The number of critically endangered primates has risen from 13 to 19. The orang-utan, for example, moved from being regarded as vulnerable to endangered, while the Sumatran orang-utan (a sub-species) was listed as critically endangered.

Other mammals which have moved into the critically endangered category include the Tamaraw, a smaller Asian relative of the water buffalo, the woolly spider monkey and the northern muriqui, both from Brazil, and the Bonin fruit bat, from Japan. Some 128 bird species have died out over the past 500 years and more than 100 since 1800, which is 50 times the natural rate.

Conservationists believe 500 species will become extinct over the next 100 years if present trends continue. Among other trends in the report, to be discussed by an IUCN congress in Amman next week, was a decline in tortoises and freshwater turtles due to exploitation for food and medicinal use.

Original story

Fears grow for otters' sanity

(Telegraph Sep 14, 2000)

SCIENTISTS are worried for the sanity of Britain's increasing otter population after finding disturbing evidence of cannibalism and infanticide, according to a study published yesterday.

Post-mortem examinations on 200 otters since December 1998 showed that 33 of them - almost 17 per cent - had bite wounds inflicted by other otters. These were the result not just of fights between rival territorial males, but also involved cannibalism and even suspected infanticide, according to the report published in British Wildlife.

Vic Simpson, a veterinary pathologist, and Karen Coxon, a fellow scientist, found that many of the otters had wounds on face, feet, anus and genitals. Eight of the animals had died directly as a result of the bites. The stomach of one dog otter contained the remains of a four-week old cub.

Mr Simpson said yesterday: "We do not know whether these injuries are symptomatic of new and worrying behaviour or just that our population levels have recovered enough for them to become apparent again. But there is no reported evidence of this sort of behaviour happening elsewhere, such as Germany, where the species is also doing well.

"What is new is that there is now clear evidence that aggressive behaviour does not just involve males fighting for territories - females are being badly bitten and dying too. It even applies to cubs"

One theory is that a Vitamin A deficiency, caused by ingesting pollutants, has caused increased aggression. Mr Simpson, however, was sceptical and suggested that the aggressive behaviour could be linked to the gradual recovery of the otter population in Britain prompting fierce competition for territory.

Original story

Freed otters massacre farm trout

(Telegraph Jun 23, 2000)

OTTERS released into the wild after being bred in captivity have devastated a trout farm.

Tim Small, who runs Lechlade Trout Farm, said 30 per cent of his organically reared trout stocks had been killed by otters. He criticised the Otter Trust for releasing them so close to his farm.

He said: "I have heard there are up to 19 pairs of hand-reared otters which have been released by the Otter Trust. These otters are behaving like urban foxes, biting chunks out of my fish indiscriminately." He said he and his two children regularly look out of their kitchen window at breakfast time on the Gloucestershire farm and see otters playing just 20 feet away.

Dr Simon Pickering is biodiversity officer for the Cotswold Water Park Society, which is reponsible for managing wildife habitat. He said: "We would prefer to see otters come back to the area naturally - they will do a great deal of damage in large numbers. It is not against the law to release captive-bred otters but it is not good to release several in one place which may have happened here."

The Otter Trust was unavailable for comment.

Original story

Otters under threat on roads

(BBC July 13, 2000)

There has been a dramatic rise in the number of otters being killed on the roads in Wales.

The latest figures from the Environment Agency show 36 otters have been killed so far this year - the same figure as in the whole of the 1980s.

Research carried out by the agency in Wales shows that many otters are killed when they are forced onto road because water culverts are blocked.

Now developers are being urged to improve road and bridge design to stop the numbers of deaths rising.

Its the second time in the last half century that otters in Wales have come under a real threat.

In the late 1950s otters faced extinction, a victim of the threat from pollution from pesticides and changing habitats.

But thanks to the work of conservationists the otter population has been thriving until this most recent threat from the motor car.


Otter expert Rob Colley said: "Any species doing well is going to come into conflict, basically with us."

"That is what is happening with the otter and the motor car."

Now road developers are being urged to come up with improved designs to enable the otters to pass safely under bridges.

Kerry Rogers, manager of the Environment Agency project, said a list of priority and top priority sites had been drawn up and efforts would be made to improve them for otters with the help of local highway authorities.

Original story

Aleutian otters take a nosedive

(CNN July 6, 2000)

The number of sea otters in Alaska's Aleutian Islands has plummeted since the early 1990s, a recent survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reveals.

The sea otter population in the area has declined 70 percent since 1992 and 95 percent or more throughout much of the archipelago since the 1980s.

The biologists surveyed 78 of the islands using a twin-engine raft.

"We have known for some time that populations of sea otters were declining in certain areas of the Aleutians" said Jim Estes, a scientist with the Western Ecological Research Center in Santa Cruz, California. "The survey chronicled the geographic extent of that decline. Prior to that, we only had spot surveys."

Historically, sea otters were abundant throughout the coastal regions of the north Pacific Ocean. Extensive commercial harvesting for the otter's teddy bear skin brought them to the brink of extinction at the turn of the century.

In 1911, the International Fur Seal Treaty gave the remaining isolated populations of sea otters protection from further commercial harvest.

Following the treaty, otters made a successful comeback in the Aleutian Islands. By the 1960s the Aleutians harbored the world's greatest concentration of sea otters. A survey conducted in the 1980s by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimated that there were 55,000 to 100,000 sea otters in the area.

That number has declined dramatically to only 6,000 otters, according to the recent survey. The cause of the decline is a subject of controversy.

"This is another indication that the Berring Sea ecosystem is undergoing immense changes," Estes said.

Many biologists suspect that the ground-fishing industry may be indirectly responsible for the otters' decline.

Ground fisheries have removed vast amounts of fish from the ecosystem, Estes said. Seals and sea lions are suffering from that.

In the absence of their traditional food source of Stellar sea lions and harbor seals in western Alaska waters, killer whales have been preying on an increasing number of otters, Estes concluded in a 1998 study.

Previous work over the past several decades reveals that the otters are dying in the water, explains wildlife biologist Douglas Burn. "If it was disease or starvation, you would expect to see a lot of dead otters on the beach. It is likely that the otters are being preyed upon at sea."

Estes calculated that a killer whale on a steady diet of sea otters could consume as many as 1,825 otters in a year. "It wouldn't take a remarkable number of whales to have an impact on the sea otter population," he said.

"Our recent data will lead the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider a need for listing the otters under the Endangered Species Act" Estes said. "No other marine mammal has declined as precipitously."

Original story

Otter stolen from Oakland Zoo

(CNN Jun 7, 2000)

OAKLAND, California (CNN) -- The reward for the safe return of a North American River Otter stolen from the Oakland Zoo on Monday has reached $12,000, zoo officials said Wednesday.

Harriet, a 20-pound, 13-year-old recent mother, was taken Monday after the zoo had closed, said zoo officials, who discovered the theft Tuesday morning.

Harriet needs a special diet that requires meals four times per day, the zoo officials said.

Harriet's year-and-a-half-old pup, Willow, has not eaten since her mother disappeared. Otters depend on their mothers to learn to swim.

Harriet's mate, Ozzie, has eaten only sporadically since Monday, zoo officials said.

Augmented by donations from private individuals, the zoo's offer of $1,000 for Harriet's safe return has swollen to $12,000. Burglars tore down a chain-link fence to reach the otter and toted her away in a zoo animal carrier Sunday night, zoo officials said. A squirrel monkey exhibit was damaged during the break-in.

Bites from wild otters can spread diseases, and Harriet has bitten her handlers in the past.

Original story

Oil harms otters 10 years on

(BBC May 23, 2000)

US scientists say sea otters in the area where the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred showed appreciable harm a decade after the accident.

The tanker went aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, in March 1989, spilling an estimated 42 million litres of crude oil.

By September that year, almost 1,000 dead otters had been found in the spill area, and in some oiled areas even now otter densities remain at about half their densities before the spill.

And the researchers say otters in the western part of the sound "have experienced significant long-term negative effects from the spill"

They say: "While lingering effects of acute oil exposure may account for much of the longer-term spill effects, less direct impacts are also likely to have occurred, due either to maternal influences or to continued exposure to oil residues."

And they believe that much of the apparent recovery in oiled areas can be explained by the arrival of otters from unaffected parts of the sound.

Assessment difficulties

The authors are from the US Geological Survey's Alaska Biological Science Center, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the US Fish and Wildlife Serive.

Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers say the chronic effects of the Exxon Valdez spill and similar environmental accidents have been difficult to prove, partly because of a lack of reliable data on the density and distribution of animal populations before the accidents.

They tried to overcome this problem by inferring mortality patterns from the age distribution of otters found dead in the vicinity of the spill each year between 1976 and 1998.

They used a simple demographic model of age-specific survival rates over time, and a statistical method known as maximum likelihood, to predict the observed age distributions of sea otter carcases collected from beaches each year after the spill.

Cautious optimism

In this way, they found that otters in the area had decreased survival rates in the years after 1989, and animals born after the spill continued to be adversely affected for almost a decade.

They write: "These findings demonstrate that a combination of population data, demographic modelling techniques, and statistical analyses can demonstrate otherwise difficult-to-detect long-term impacts of environmental disasters.

"The same general approach might be used to study lingering effects of other environment accidents on different animal populations."

The authors conclude: "While our findings document continuing demographic effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, we also show that these effects have gradually dissipated with time - largely because of the death of cohorts most affected by the spill."

"This finding suggests that cautious optimism is warranted concerning the gradual return of the ecological communities of western Prince William Sound to pre-spill conditions."

Original story

Otter rescue highlights wildlife worry

(BBC Feb 11, 2000)

An otter cub found abandoned in west Wales is being cared for at a special unit in the Brecon Beacons.

It is hoped the weak and malnourished cub may be nurtured back to health and eventually returned to the wild.

But experts are worried about the increasing number of otter casualties and deaths across Wales.

Now a major study is being carried out to try and save them.

Keith the three-month-old otter - named after his rescuer - was found under a gorse bush close to the Loughor estuary at Llanelli.

With no sign of his mother - an ulcer on his eye is probably the reason he became parted from her - he would not have survived a few days.

He is now being cared for at a special intensive care unit set up by the Brecknock Wildlife Trust in mid Wales.

Having put on a few ounces, Keith is already eating up to a pound of fresh salmon a day.

But while he may look cute and cuddly, he is a wild animal and as such needs to be treated with care.

The whole point of his rescue is that he does not become tame so eventually he can be released into the wild.

"He's a wonderful creature, fascinating, very inquisitive and active but he can give you a really good bite as well," warned trust volunteer Gareth Jones.

The otter population is slowly expanding in Wales but more and more are being killed on busy roads.

Research project

And it is this problem that a research project across Wales is trying to tackle.

"We would like to hear from the public if they see a live otter or a dead otter," said Dianne Russell of the Brecknock Wildlife Trust.

"We would like to recover the body. It sounds a bit grisly but the body will then go for an autopsy."

Keith the otter cub is to remain in mid Wales for a few days before heading off to a sanctuary where he is likely to remain for a year before being freed into the wild.

Original story