Sea otters’ numbers climbing on county coast

Sea otters, considered one of the most adorable of ocean mammals, are making a slow but steady comeback to the northern San Mateo County coast.

Coastal cities, including Pacifica and San Francisco, have thrown support behind this week’s Sea Otter Awareness Week, an outpouring that comes as the heaviest of the otters, prized for their furs, are spotted more frequently around Half Moon Bay and Pacifica.

The otters are featured more in fishing-excursion materials in Half Moon Bay, which note in their promotional materials that participants on whale-watching adventures might spot one of the elusive furry animals.

Sea otters are equipped with flippers; thick, dense fur; and flexible bodies. Over the last 30 years, the sea otter population has been corralled into the central coast of California around Monterey and Ano Nuevo — an area on the southernmost part of San Mateo County, according to U.S. Geological Survey biologist Jim Estes, who has been studying sea otters since 1970. USGS data from this year shows about a dozen sea otters per year making their way to Half Moon Bay, Pacifica and as far north as Point Reyes in the North Bay.

Scientists are continuously perplexed that the sea otter population isn’t larger on the San Mateo County coast, as food resources are abundant and the weather isn’t too cold or too hot for them, according to information from the USGS.

There are some theories, Estes said, that point to an extensive shark population on the northern coast destroying the population and preventing it from growing more quickly. The animal is endangered, and it is illegal to hunt them in California, fish and game spokesman Al Donner said. They are, however, legally hunted in Alaska. To get off the endangered species list, they will have to bring their population to 3,200 and stay there for about three years, Estes said.

tramroop@examiner.com

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