Boats Blamed in 4 Sea Otter Deaths in a Week

Times Staff Writer

Four sea otters have been killed over the last week by boaters along California’s Central Coast, alarming officials who say it’s an unusually high number of boat-related deaths.

The southern sea otter, which has been on the endangered species list since 1977, is most commonly threatened by disease and pollution. It’s much more unusual for boats to cause deaths, officials said.

“Every one of the animals is important at this point,” said Greg Sanders, sea otter coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We only have a little over 2,000 in this area.”


The dead animals were discovered last week on the shores of Monterey Bay. Necropsy reports revealed that they died of blunt trauma associated with speeding boats, said officials at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which is part of the state’s marine animal collection program.

Because the otters are endangered, the fact that two of four dead animals were females is “difficult to see,” said Chris Harrold, director of research and conservation for the aquarium.

Added Sanders: “If you lose a young female ... that animal doesn’t produce any young pups for the rest of its life.”

California’s otter population, which was nearly wiped out by 20th century fur traders, peaked in 1995 at about 2,300 animals. That number dropped to about 2,100 several years later, however, and for the last two years, it has remained steady. The otter would go off the endangered species list if the population were to rise above 3,000 and stay that way for at least three years.

Officials don’t know what kind of boats hit the otters or whether the incidents were intentional or accidental. But they said boat strikes can easily be avoided if boaters simply slow down and are more watchful. Otters can be hard to detect if they dive underwater as a boat goes by, officials said.

Those who hit otters by “blatantly ignoring” speed limits could face criminal and civil charges, Sanders warned.

“Someone who’s complying with the law and hits an animal is not [at] as great a risk,” he said.