The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comments on a proposal to formally end the 18-year-old
California sea otter translocation program following an in-depth evaluation that found the program is not
meeting its objectives for restoring the species.
The Service is also proposing to allow the approximately 30 southern sea otters resident at San Nicolas Island
to stay there. Under the Service’s proposal, these animals will no longer be considered part of an experimental
population and will be protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, as is the rest of
California’s sea otter population.
AMany of the sea otters we moved to San Nicolas Island had a plan of their own and swam back to the central
coast of California said Steve Thompson, manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s California-Nevada
Operations Office. “We believe that continuing the translocation program will not promote recovery of the
Following an evaluation of the translocation program, the Service made its conclusion and recommendation to
terminate the program in a draft supplement to an environmental impact statement, which also evaluates
several other alternatives.
The purpose of the translocation program, which began in 1987, was to establish a colony of southern sea
otters outside their existing range to boost recovery of the species and to protect against the possibility that a
natural or human-caused event – such as an oil spill – would devastate the main population of otters. As part of
this program, 140 otters were moved to San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands in Southern California,
from the main population of otters, which resides between Half Moon Bay and Point Conception. Contrary to
expectations, an independent population of sea otters failed to become established. The San Nicolas Island
otter colony now numbers about 30 animals.
 Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), the smallest of marine mammals found in U.S. waters, may live for
up to15 years and feed primarily on a variety of large invertebrates, including sea urchins, abalone, rock crabs,
kelp crabs, and clams. Their use of tools to break open their food makes them unique among marine mammals.
 Most adult female sea otters give birth to one pup each year.  Southern sea otters depend on clean, waterresistant
fur – about one million hairs per square inch – for insulation against cold ocean water. Due to their
small body size and lack of blubber, sea otters must stay warm by producing a high level of internal heat.
satisfy their high energy requirements, sea otters spend the majority of their time foraging for food and eat an
average of 25% of their body weight each day.
The southern sea otter once ranged from Oregon south to Baja California, Mexico. During the 18th and 19th
centuries, otters were hunted for their luxurious pelts; by the early 1900s the species was nearly extinct, with
only a small remnant colony surviving off the Big Sur coast.  This key species in the California marine
ecosystem was listed as threatened in 1977 under the Endangered Species Act and is considered a depleted
species under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Today there are approximately 2,700 sea otters ranging
from Half Moon Bay to Point Conception off the coast of central and southern California. A revised recovery
plan for the southern sea otter, released in 2003, describes a strategy of determining the causes of the increased
mortality that is slowing natural range expansion and recovery.