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Otter News 2004

Honey the pampered otter shuns the wild (Telegraph Aug 19, 2004)
Exciting otter sightings in Cornwall (Wildlife Trusts Aug 16, 2004)
California Sea Otter Numbers Climb for Second Consecutive Year (USGS Jun 16, 2004)

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Honey the pampered otter shuns the wild

(Telegraph Aug 19, 2004)

A rescued otter called Honey is refusing to return to the wild because she likes human company too much.

The young female was being kept illegally as a pet at a Perthshire house when the authorities intervened and alerted volunteers from the International Otter Survival Fund, who found her curled up on a sofa.

However, after living as a pampered pet, Honey has thwarted two attempts to set her free.

Paul Bullimore, of Scarborough Sea Life Centre, who has been helping to care for her, said: "At the moment, it's more probable that she would run up and nuzzle someone's leg, and for an otter that is a real tragedy."

Otter experts have now built her a wooden shelter, or holt, in Yorkshire, to enable her to lead as natural a life as she can, while also being fed regularly and looked after. She was taken to her new home yesterday.

Original story

Exciting otter sightings in Cornwall

(Wildlife Trusts Aug 16, 2004)

It's good news about otters says Cornwall Wildlife Trust, who are hearing about exciting otter sightings all over the County, at all times of the day and in some weird and wonderful places.

Kate Stokes, Water for Wildlife Manager at the Trust explains:

"More people are seeing otters in Cornwall, which reflects the fact that our otters are making a good come-back and that there are more otters here. However, they are still a rare species and we need to know when people see otters to monitor how successful they are. We are especially keen to know if people see otters in the daytime."

Kate continues "Text books refer to otters as nocturnal, but they can be seen easily in Scotland during the day. Many people now see otters during the day in Cornwall too and we want to update the text books. For example otters are being seen along the Bude Canal, in the river at Wadebridge, running through the streets of St Ives, in the streams near Penzance, crossing the moors on the Lizard, on a boat in Truro and in garden ponds at St Austell!"

The Trust is also keen to hear from members of the public who have seen otter cubs or more than one otter. These animals are generally solitary and if two or more animals are seen together it is often the family unit - a mother and young. There are very few breeding records of otters and this is important to record.

Although otters are doing well, recovering from near extinction in the late 1950s and 1960s, the Environment Agency is still concerned. James Burke, Biodiversity Officer says:

"Otters still face a number of threats and cars are one of the biggest issues. Because we have good otter numbers in the South West, we do get a lot of otter road kills, especially at certain black spot areas like the A30 over Goss Moor. If someone sees a dead otter they should contact the Trust or the Agency immediately, so we can arrange collection of the corpse."

Otter corpses are taken for examination at Britain's first Wildlife Veterinary Investigation Centre at Chacewater. Vic Simpson, an award winning wildlife pathologist, carries out a post mortem to determine vital information such as the sex, age, breeding condition and health status of the animal. Vic's work is also challenging text books, which say that otters are generally not territorial. Vic explains:

"Many of the otters I examine have serious bite wounds - and in sensitive areas like the bottom, genitals and face. Sometimes these are from domestic dogs, but frequently they are bites from other otters. This shows that otters are fighting for resources such as food and mates, which is totally natural behaviour. It's natural competition and shows that we have good otter numbers in the South West."

The three organisations are putting out a plea. If you are lucky enough to see an otter - any time, any place, any where, be it dead or alive, night or day, please do contact the Cornwall Wildlife Trust on 01872 273939 to let them know. You'll be playing an important part in monitoring the successful return of this wonderful animal.

Original story

California Sea Otter Numbers Climb for Second Consecutive Year

(USGS Jun 16, 2004)

Observers tallied a record-high total of 2,825 California sea otters for the 2004 spring survey, led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The 2004 total marked the 2nd consecutive year the threatened population has shown an appreciable increase in numbers, up 12.8 percent over the 2003 total of 2,505 otters.

"The latest 3-year running average of the 3 most recent spring counts is up 9.8 percent, to 2,490 sea otters," said survey organizer Brian Hatfield, a USGS biologist in California. The use of 3-year running averages in assessing trends is the approach recommended by the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Team to reduce the influence of any anomalous counts in a given year. For the southern sea otter to no longer be considered "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, a 3-year running average count of at least 3,090 sea otters would need to be sustained for 3 consecutive years.

The recent increase in sea otters, however, apparently has not occurred across all segments of the population evenly. "Most of the recent increase has been in areas dominated by male sea otters," said USGS scientist Jim Estes. "Numbers of reproductive females have remained roughly stable for the past decade, or perhaps even longer."

While encouraged by the high count, the scientists have not yet fully assessed what this means for the recovery of the southern sea otter. Elevated sea otter mortality has hindered recovery of the population. "We are assembling a recovery implementation team to address this and other recovery issues," said Greg Sanders, southern sea otter recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Increasing sea otter numbers will help us reach our recovery goals, but ultimately we must address the underlying threats to the population."

A team of scientists from federal and state agencies, universities and the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been working collaboratively to better understand why the California sea otter has not yet fully recovered. The team is using radio transmitters and time-depth recorders in dozens of tagged sea otters to track and monitor behavior and vital signs as the animals dive and forage for food. Preliminary results from these telemetry studies are showing an increase in male survival in recent years, but not in female survival.

"By very precisely and closely following these tagged individuals, we are taking a qualitatively new look into the population," said Estes. "From these individuals we will be able to make a sounder assessment as to what causes them to die or acts on their mortality, and the relative proportion of various threats." Additional insight into mortality comes from detailed necropsies by the California Department of Fish and Game of freshly dead sea otters found stranded along the California coast.

The spring 2004 California sea otter survey was conducted May 6-21, from Point San Pedro in the north to Rincon Point in the south, in overall viewing conditions slightly less favorable than for spring 2003. The spring survey is a cooperative effort of the USGS, California Department of Fish and Game's Marine Wildlife Care and Research Center, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and many experienced and dedicated volunteers. The information gathered from spring surveys is used by federal and state wildlife agencies in making decisions about the management of this small sea mammal.

On June 15, a new high-definition USGS video product was premiered on HDNet. The program, "Precipice of Survival: The Southern Sea Otter" tells the story of the California sea otter's return from near extinction after the fur trade to the collaborative research effort that may provide key information for their recovery. The program will air repeatedly on HDNet over the next year. See: http://hd.net/ for broadcast information.

Original story