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Evaluating Contaminant Impacts to Sea Otters Along Washington's Coast

Date Posted: February 5, 2002

Sea otters were extirpated from Washington State's coast in the early 20th century. The current population is a result of two reintroduction efforts, in 1969 and 1970, in which a total of 59 otters were relocated from Alaska. The Washington population has generally been increasing and currently contains approximately 500 animals. However, during the summer of 2000, agencies tallied 22 unexplained sea otter deaths in Washington State. Concern over these deaths led the Western Washington Office, along with several partners (see "links" below), to development a study to assess the overall health, movements and distribution of sea otters located along Washington’s Outer Coast.

During the study's first field season, seventeen sea otters were captured and 15 were implanted with radio-transmitters. In addition, tissue and blood samples were taken from the animals to be analyzed for contaminant residues. Samples will also be used to assess the overall health of the individuals captured. Results of this study will, hopefully, give insight into the cause of the sea otter deaths and guide resource managers in sea otter recovery efforts in Washington as well as in California and Alaska where sea otter populations are in decline.

Jay Davis, 360-753-9568

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

U.S. Geological Survey

National Park Service

Last updated: June 12, 2015