More Fall 2001 Otter Updates
By Tracy Johnston

Sea Otters are Now Legally Free to Roam
Sea otters are now legally free to roam the length of the California coast-at least for a while-as part of an agreement reached between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commercial Fishermen of Santa Barbara (CFSB) and others in a Los Angeles U.S. District Court this past July. As part of the agreement, CFSB agreed to dismiss a lawsuit against federal wildlife officials while the Fish and Wildlife Service studies alternatives to relocating sea otters from key fishing areas located along the southern California coast. Dismissal of the lawsuit will allow the Fish and Wildlife Service to use its limited resources to complete its evaluation of the translocation program.

The lawsuit would have forced the Fish and Wildlife Service to resume transporting sea otters from the "no otter zone" between Point Conception to the Channel Islands, a practice started in 1986 that environmentalists and wildlife biologists have long criticized as fatal to the otters. Terre Hawkins, a Santa Barbara sea urchin fisherman, states the fear that the state's commercial fishery for invertebrates such as mussels, abalone and sea urchins-worth more than $31 million-could be decimated within two years by otters if they are free to move into the area. However an approximate 10% decline in the sea otter population over the last five years has federal wildlife officials concerned the only way for the species to recover from a threatened population is to stop the relocation efforts and allow the otters to naturally expand southward.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service expects to issue a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in the winter of 2002. It plans to complete its final decision by December, 2002. In agreeing to dismiss its lawsuit, CFSB reserves the right to challenge the Fish and Wildlife Service's final decision whether the translocation program should be modified or terminated completely.

Unusual Incident Reported in Florida
The St. Petersburg Times reported an American Eskimo dog was attacked and killed by a river otter in Florida this past May. The dog's 13-year-old owner first thought the otter was playing with her dog, Mike, until it seized his snout and dragged him from her back yard into a lake bordering her family's property. The otter also attacked a family friend when he tried to rescue Mike.

"Otters usually are not aggressive, they're usually a very shy animal," said Denise Hilton, Pasco Animal Control Manager. She speculated the otter could have been a mother trying to protect her litter or it could have been rabid. Jeff McGrady, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, was also quoted in the article as saying "This is very bizarre behavior for an otter. It sort of just left us scratching our heads."

Rosetta in Denver Gets New Companion

The Rocky Mountain Ark Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Telluride, Colorado, generously donated Otto, a male river otter, to the Denver Zoo this summer following the death of Retaxus, the resident male river otter. Otto joins Rosetta, the zoo's resident female river otter. (See "Denver Zoo Otter's Past Travel" in the Spring 1998 issue of The River Otter Journal for information on Rosetta.)

Archaeologists have Discovered Sea Otter Bones
Archaeologists have discovered sea otter bones-among those of other wildlife-in the remains of an American Indian village located at the mouth of the Coquille River in what is now the city of Bandon, Oregon. Although indigenous to the area, sea otters no longer live along the Oregon coast, despite a 1970s reintroduction effort of Alaskan otters, which failed when all the animals disappeared.

Now in the first stage of another effort to return the sea otter to Oregon, Portland State University researchers are focusing a genetic magnifier on sea otter bones from prehistoric settlements. The purpose is to discover whether the native otter was more closely related to today's Alaskan or California sea otter populations, or some sort of blending of the two, in hopes of insuring the success of a future reintroduction program. The project is to be financed through donations and grants. Portland State University graduate student Kim Valentine will conduct most of the laboratory work.

New Husbandry Notebook Available
The 2nd Edition of the North American River Otter Husbandry Notebook is now available. This updated and expanded 283 page volume contains contributions from several authors. Information is divided into 17 chapters on: Taxonomy; Distribution; Status; Identification & Description; Behavior, Social Organization & Natural History; Reproduction; Captive Management; Hand-Rearing; Feeding & Nutrition; Health Care; Behavioral & Environmental Enrichment; Training or Behavioral Modification; North American River Otters in European Institutions; Rehabilitators and Otter Resources; Websites, On-Line Education and Useful Addresses; Otter Tales and Legends; General Bibliography. This volume is available at a cost of $20.00 plus $2.50 shipping (U.S.), $5.00 (Canada), $12.00 (overseas). All funds raised will be contributed to the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) Otter SSP.

For additional information contact: Jan Reed-Smith,, or send a check made payable to John Ball Zoo Society, Attn. Otter Husbandry Notebook, John Ball Zoo, 1300 W. Fulton, Grand Rapids, MI 49504. Master Card, Visa, or Discover card payments must include card #, expiration date, name, billing and shipping addresses. Send to: Information may be faxed to: Lisa Hann, John Ball Zoo Society, 616-336-3907.