Sick sea otters washing ashore
By: Matt Cota
15th April 2004
A number of endangered California sea otters are washing up on the beaches of San Luis Obispo County either dead, or dying.
So far, at least 20 otters have been discovered on beaches from Hazard Canyon to the Cayucos Pier. A biologist with the Department of Fish and Game says domoic acid is the likely culprit. Domoic acid is a naturally occurring toxin found in phytoplankton-- a microscopic plant that moves up the food chain, until it is delivered in a lethal dose to marine mammals, like sea lions and dolphins. Late last spring, the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center rescued over 200 sick sea lions due to the domoic acid outbreak.
The otter deaths are a concern to researchers; last year, 262 otters were found dead on state beaches, well over the 10-year average-- 166. Experts say the otters' weakened immune systems are due to pollution, and while it hasn't been successfully proven, some marine mammal experts say pollution may also be to blame for the increasing amount of domoic acid. Last year, there were no reports of sick sea lions out on any of the Channel Islands in Santa Barbara County-- leading some to believe that the increase in domoic acid is related to run-off pollution.
The Department of Fish and Game is conducting a number of tests to see if domoic acid is the cause of making the otters sick.