Sea Otters Could Get New Home in San Francisco Bay

Cortez Deacetis

At the time hunted to the brink of extinction for their luxuriant pelts, California sea otters rebounded soon after protections have been put in location in 1911. Their population grew steadily for considerably of the previous century, but now the continue to-threatened species is stuck at about 3,000 otters. The issue is that they are boxed in at the two ends of their current range, together the state’s central coastline, by a sharp (and so considerably unexplained) increase in shark assaults. Hoping to reintroduce breeding populations somewhere else in the otters’ historic vary, wildlife professionals have been wanting at certain coastal estuaries, which are sheltered pockets of h2o.

It turns out that the major estuary on the West Coast—San Francisco Bay—could perhaps present an exceptional home for sea otters inspite of staying in the middle of a significant urban location, in accordance to a review published past thirty day period in PeerJ.

“I was shocked,” says study guide creator Jane Rudebusch, a spatial ecologist at San Francisco State University’s Estuary & Ocean Science Heart. “The bay is intensely urbanized. You can tell it really is a occupied position just by wanting at it.” Tanker ships provide crude oil to shoreline refineries each and every day, and high-speed commuter ferries consistently zoom between San Francisco, Oakland and other waterfront towns at up to 50 miles per hour. Sediment in components of the bay is laced with methylmercury and polychlorinated biphenyls, poisonous substances that accumulate in the clams, crabs and other animals that sea otters take in.

Rudebusch and her colleagues used existing knowledge to make a map of the bay showing these hazards by unique region, as perfectly as the top quality of feasible sea otter habitats—particularly shallow water and salt marshes. They identified the bay however has hundreds of acres of significant-high quality habitat in places where the hazard from human threats is reduced. “A massive portion of the north bay is a sweet spot,” Rudebusch suggests. A great deal of this area is only about three ft deep and has ample salt marsh in guarded regions such as China Camp Condition Park and the San Pablo Bay Countrywide Wildlife Refuge.

Rudebusch is optimistic that sea otters can coexist with the lots of human utilizes of the San Francisco Bay, but she emphasizes that her work is an early action in a extensive method. She also cautions that, right before wildlife administrators can even assume about reintroducing sea otters, “there wants to be a good deal a lot more groundwork to improve the likelihood of good results.”

A person concern is no matter if the north bay offers adequate foods for sea otters, which consume the equal of about 1 quarter of their system excess weight just about every working day. A companion analyze published in PeerJ in 2019 observed that the entire bay has more than enough prey to feed about 6,600 sea otters. But that study did not map meals abundance in certain areas of the bay. “The following major issue is assessing prey availability spatially,” Rudebusch suggests. “The otters will go the place the meals is. Will it line up with the north bay sweet location, or in large-hazard regions?”

Also unknown is no matter whether sea otters would keep place in which they are reintroduced. “It’s impossible to predict what they will do,” says Tim Tinker, a sea otter professional at the College of California, Santa Cruz, who was not involved with the new analyze but did contribute to the one particular revealed in 2019. He indicates demo reintroductions in scaled-down estuaries just north of the San Francisco Bay. These include Tomales Bay, which is in a state park, and Drakes Estero, in Place Reyes Countrywide Seashore. These types of exam runs would aid decide no matter if reintroduced otters are probable to stay in estuaries, as very well as the ideal sexual intercourse and age mix for developing new populations. “These are all matters that have to have to be assumed by ahead of reintroducing otters to the San Francisco Bay could grow to be a reality,” Tinker claims.

A different component to think about is the regional response to reestablishing sea otters. Members of the fishing marketplace, for illustration, may possibly be leery of these voracious predators. There are no for a longer period any professional fisheries in the bay by itself, but it stays a key nursery for younger Dungeness crabs that migrate out to the ocean exactly where they are harvested as grownups. And shoreline home builders might oppose the return of sea otters because, as a shielded species, their presence would add a layer of regulation to projects. 

Quite a few conservationists, on the other hand, would be thrilled at the prospect of bringing sea otters again to the bay. Letitia Grenier, an ecologist at the nonprofit San Francisco Estuary Institute who was not involved with the analyze, notes that the bay is previously wealthy in wildlife ranging from salmon to migratory birds to humpback whales. The latter have recently started returning to feast on large faculties of anchovies. “The bay has so a lot space—hundreds of 1000’s of acres,” she suggests. “We should to be ready to share it with sea otters.”

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