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Otter News 2003

THEY'RE BACK! OTTERS RETURN TO SURREY (Wildlife Trusts Nov 11, 2003)
California Sea Otter Numbers are Up for the 2003 Census (USGS Jun 6, 2003)
Otter numbers show five-fold increase (Telegraph May 12, 2003)
Conservationists urge action over otter deaths (BBC Feb 26, 2003)

News Index


(Wildlife Trusts Nov 11, 2003)

After almost 40 years otters have returned to Surrey. These charismatic mammals were once found in waterways across the county, but disappeared during the 60s due to environmental reasons. Now, after years of working on habitat improvements in an attempt to encourage otters back to the county, Surrey Wildlife Trust are delighted to announce that otters have returned. Evidence found over this summer indicates that they are on the North Wey around Farnham.

Chris Matcham, Surrey's Otters & Rivers Project Officer said: "We have had a great number of false alarms over the years, so perhaps this time the otter will not be a mere tourist, but will be the first of a resident population in the county." The Surrey Wildlife Trust's Otters & Rivers Project has been running since 1997 carrying out extensive habitat improvement work as well as raising awareness of the benefits of otters in wetland habitats.

Earlier this year 'The 2000 National Otter Survey' - sponsored by the Environment Agency and locally by Thames Water - was issued. It highlighted dramatic improvements in the otter population as a whole over the country with otter numbers increasing from 6% to 30% of sites visited over a 25-year period. At the time otters had not been seen in Surrey, although the survey did reveal that they were getting closer from the north west.

These latest findings are excellent news because the otter is an important indicator of the health of our rivers and wetlands and its gradual recovery highlights the wellbeing of the water environment and the animals it supports

"I have been working long and hard to achieve this outcome," commented Chris Matcham, "But far from being the end of the story, it is just the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in the long history of otters in Surrey. I would like to thank both Thames Water and the Environment Agency for their long-term support of this project."

Original story

California Sea Otter Numbers are Up for the 2003 Census

(USGS Jun 6, 2003)

Counters tallied a total of 2,505 California sea otters in 2003, 17 percent more sea otters than the total of 2,139 otters in 2002, according to a survey led by the U.S. Geological Survey. Excellent to good counting conditions sped the 2003 census to a near-record time, running May 10-15.

"This is the highest total count and the highest count of adult and young adult sea otters, 2,270, since current standardized methods came into practice in 1983," said survey organizer Brian Hatfield, a USGS biologist in California. The total number of dependent pups counted was 235. The survey is conducted cooperatively with the California Department of Fish and Game, Monterey Bay Aquarium, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies and organizations. The information gathered from spring surveys is used by federal and state wildlife agencies in making decisions about the management of this sea mammal.

This year's survey also marks the greatest differential on record in totals for spring counts between any two sequential years. While the increased number of otters in the spring 2003 count is a hopeful sign that the California population may be increasing, the number is not necessarily indicative of an overall population increase, said Jim Estes, a USGS scientist. Spring counts have been quite variable since 1999. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan recommends that trend analyses be based on 3-year running averages to reduce the influence of anomalously high or low counts during any particular year. Factors that can influence the count include viewing conditions, abundance and species composition of surface canopy kelp, observer experience, and distribution and movements of the animals.

"The 3-year running averages do indicate a gradual but statistically significant population increase of about 0.9 percent per year since 1998; however, this result is strongly driven by the high 2003 count," said Estes. "As is always the case, the meaning of this data point will not become clear for several more years."

Hatfield said most of the increase in numbers of sea otters counted between 2002 and 2003 occurred in Monterey Bay; elsewhere, numbers were mostly similar to those obtained in 2002. Excellent viewing conditions encountered by the aerial team likely contributed to the increase in the number of otters counted in Monterey Bay.

In central California, a short-term change in otter habitat and food availability may also have contributed to higher numbers in Monterey Bay, noted Estes. Early storms and large waves during winter of 2002-2003 greatly reduced kelp canopies -- which otters use for resting and foraging -- in several exposed outer-coast areas within the sea otter's range in central California. Along some stretches of coast, the number of otters counted was reduced from prior years, and some "missing" otters may have moved into Monterey Bay. Elevated numbers of Dungeness crabs may also have contributed to the unusually large number of otters in Monterey Bay.

"We're cautiously optimistic about the increase in sea otter numbers for this year, but elevated sea otter mortality is still hindering recovery," said Greg Sanders, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sea otter coordinator. "In the long run, we have to minimize deaths of these animals."

The greatly elevated number of sea otters in Monterey Bay, and to a lesser extent in Estero Bay near the town of Morro Bay, about 110 miles south of Monterey Bay, may also help explain the record high number of strandings this year, a preliminary figure of 116 strandings reported from January through May 2003, said Estes. The probability of recovering stranded sea otters is greater in the Monterey Bay and Estero Bay regions than it is in most other areas in central California, with these two stretches of coast accounting for 63 percent of all recovered carcasses in California.

Original story

Otter numbers show five-fold increase

(Telegraph May 12, 2003)

England's otter population has risen five-fold since the low point of its decline in the late 1970s, says a report published today by the Environment Agency and the Wildlife Trusts.

The otter is on course to return to every part of England where it was found more than 50 years ago - when it was evenly distributed throughout the country - but at present inhabits just over a third of sites surveyed.

The study, undertaken with help from the water companies and English Nature, found that of 3,327 sites surveyed between 2000 and 2002, 1,137 showed evidence of otters, either prints or droppings.

Otters were found in 35 per cent of all sites surveyed in 2000-02, a sizeable increase since the first survey of its kind was carried out between 1977 and 1979. This found otters in only 5.8 per cent of sites.

Conservationists say the otter is a predator at the top of the food chain, so its health is important not only in itself, but as a reflection of the health of rivers and wetlands generally.

In the 1950s and 1960s the otter suffered a serious decline throughout its European range. The main reason was thought to have been the introduction of aldrin and dieldrin, the persistent organochlorine pesticides, which built up in fatty tissue and affected reproduction.

The 1977 survey found that the only significant population of otters remaining in England was in the South West and along the Welsh border, with small and fragmented populations in East Anglia and northern England.

Two surveys since then have shown a gradual recovery, but this has been markedly slower than for other predators, such as the peregrine falcon and sparrowhawk, affected by organochlorine compounds. Conservationists say this may reflect otters' slower breeding rate.

Other factors included poor river quality and habitat loss, increased human disturbance, an apparent decline in fish productivity and increased danger on the roads from the growth in traffic.

Andrew Crawford of the Environment Agency, the survey's author, said the results showed the otter recovering, but some areas had recorded substantial growth while others had experienced little or none.

Evidence of otters has increased significantly on the Trent river system since the 1970s, but parts of the North West have recorded only a small rise in positive sightings. The South East has had only a low increase, possibly because of its small otter population and the disproportionately large numbers of deaths on roads and railway tracks.

Mr Crawford said: "Otters are not increasing as fast as we would like in some areas and we will need to concentrate on ways to protect the otter from cars, which continue to be one of the biggest threats."

Martin Spray, acting director general of the trusts, said: "There are still some significant gaps in otter distribution throughout England. Only about one third of the sites surveyed had evidence of otters and we are still some time away from full recovery of historical otter numbers."

Original story

Conservationists urge action over otter deaths

(BBC Feb 26, 2003)

About 51 otters were killed on the region's roads in 2002

A record number of otters are being killed on the South West's roads.

A meeting is being held on Wednesday night to discuss ways to reduce the figure.

Last year, 51 otters were reported killed on Devon and Cornwall's roads, which is double the previous record.

Conservationists have said they expect this year's total to be even higher as the region's otter population is growing.

Building ledges

Most casualties happen close to bridges and tend to happen at this time of year because rivers are swollen and running too fast for otters to swim up.

There are usually no banks under bridges, so otters are forced to cross roads as they roam for food.

The meeting, which will be attended by wildlife groups and officials from both counties, is being held in Launceston in Cornwall to discuss ways to alleviate the problem.

One solution is building ledges under bridges for otters to walk along.

One of the ramps is in the River Harbourne on a section which runs under the main A38 at Buckfastleigh in Devon.

Devon County Council said: "Devon has an internationally important otter population, and one of the strongest in the lowlands of the UK.

"As such, we in the county have a great obligation to ensure the conservation of this species."

Original story