Category Archives: OSPR

California Sea Otter Numbers Take a Slight Dip From Last Year, but Average Count Exceeds 3,090 for Third Consecutive Year

Southern sea otter numbers have declined off the coast of California since peaking in 2016, but the average population count remains above 3,090 for the third consecutive year. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan, the population average count would have to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years for southern sea otters to be considered for delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite the recent dip in numbers, the population average count this year has reached this three-year threshold.

According to data just released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), this year’s average count of 3,128 was 58 sea otters lower than the 2017 survey. Southern sea otters, Enhydra lutris nereis, are designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“Reaching this threshold is a milestone in southern sea otter recovery, but it will be important to review all factors influencing the population to determine whether or not delisting is appropriate using the best available science,” said Lilian Carswell, southern sea otter recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “For the southern sea otter, those factors include ongoing threats such as shark bite mortality, lack of range expansion, and changes in prey.”

In part, this year’s dip reflects a 2.2 percent decrease in the three-year average count of the sea otter’s mainland population, which stretches from about Point Año Nuevo in San Mateo County to a few kilometers west of Gaviota State Beach in Santa Barbara County. In contrast, the small sea otter population at San Nicolas Island continues to increase.

“Surface kelp canopies were abundant this year within the otter’s mainland range compared to last year when they were very sparse,” said Brian Hatfield, the USGS wildlife biologist coordinating the annual range-wide survey. “This may have influenced sea otter distribution and contributed to the higher count in the center of their range.”

Scientists from CDFW, USGS and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have conducted this range-wide census of southern sea otter populations every year since the 1980s, except for 2011, when poor weather conditions prevented completion of the field research. Researchers compute the annual population index and evaluate population trends, providing the USFWS and other resource agencies with insight into southern sea otter abundance and distribution.

The mainland population of sea otters was largest in the central part of the species’ range, which is between Seaside and Cayucos; it increased slightly in the southern part of the range. North of the central region, however, the five-year trend in sea otter populations continued to drop. Changes at the range ends have implications for the long-term outlook for sea otter recovery.

“We continue to recover high numbers of shark-bitten sea otters along the northern and southern ends of the range. These are the same areas we’ve documented a decrease in abundance. This trend is concerning and is likely impacting population expansion and recovery,” said Mike Harris, senior environmental scientist with CDFW.

In addition to the sea otter population along the mainland California coast, USGS and partners also survey the sea otters at San Nicolas Island in the Southern California Bight. This population, established by introducing sea otters back into the area in the late 1980s, struggled at low numbers through the 1990s. However, over the last decade, the population has grown rapidly at an average rate of about 10 percent per year.

The sea otter survey and stranding programs are just one part of a larger research program investigating sea otters and their role as predators in coastal ecosystems. As a “keystone” species, sea otters can give scientists clues on the health of Pacific nearshore ecosystems, which support diverse wildlife species and provide economic support for coastal communities. To keep a finger on the pulse of sea otter populations, USGS researchers monitor changes in the kelp forest ecosystems that provide sea otters with suitable resting and feeding habitat. USGS also collaborates with CDFW and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in running a sea otter stranding network. The findings from these coordinated efforts inform and support effective management of sea otter populations to guide them toward recovery.

Survey Methodology

  • The annual population index is calculated from visual surveys conducted via telescope observations from shore and via low-flying aircraft along the California coastline by researchers, students and volunteers from CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Monterey Bay Aquarium, USGS, UCSC, USFWS and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
  • This year, the surveyed coastline spanned from Pillar Point in San Mateo County, south to Rincon Point near the Santa Barbara/Ventura County line, and included San Nicolas Island.

About the Sea Otter

  • Sea otters were presumed extinct in California after the fur trade years, but they were rediscovered in the 1930s, when about 50 animals were documented near Bixby Creek north of Big Sur.
  • Sea otters are considered a keystone species of rocky sub-tidal ecosystems because they prey on sea urchins that, if left unchecked, can decimate kelp beds.
  • Scientists also study sea otters as an indicator of nearshore ecosystem health, since sea otters feed and live near the coast and often are the first predators exposed to pollutants and pathogens washed down from coastlands, such as the microbial toxin microcystin.
  • The public can report sightings of stranded sea otters to institutions listed on this webpage.

More detailed survey results and maps are available in the full report “Spring 2018 California Sea Otter Census Results,” which is available online.

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Media Contacts:
Steve Gonzalez, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (916) 715-9072
Michael Harris, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (805) 772-1135
Ashley McConnell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 320-6225
Robyn Gerstenslager
, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 701-5751

 

Grant Funding Available for Oil Spill Prevention and Response Studies

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is currently accepting proposals to fund up to $200,000 in specialized oil spill-related scientific studies in marine and inland environments. Eligible studies must relate to improved oil spill prevention and response efforts, best technologies and the improved understanding of the effects of oil on state waters.

CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) operates the California Oil Spill Study and Evaluation Program (COSSEP), which fulfills a legislative mandate to provide funding to any person or entity that qualifies to contract with the state for studies in the following areas:

  • Investigation and evaluation of applied spill prevention and response technologies
  • Effects of oil and spill response on fish and wildlife habitat and water quality
  • Strategies for best achievable protection of wildlife and habitats
  • Wildlife collection and rehabilitation during a spill incident
  • Natural resource damage assessment technologies and methods

Applications must be received by Sept. 12, 2018, and award recipients will be notified in December.

Full funding for COSSEP projects comes from the Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund, which assesses a per-barrel fee on oil entering California refineries. No taxpayer-funded dollars are directed to this account.

The number of contracts to be awarded is not pre-determined, but the total amount budgeted for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 is approximately $200,000. There is also no specified minimum amount to be awarded.

For more information, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/OSPR/Science/SSEP or contact CDFW Contract Analyst Heather Sironen at (916) 324-6252.

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Media Contacts:
Eric Laughlin, OSPR Communications, (916) 214-3279
Heather Sironen, OSRP Grants, (916) 324-6252

Scientists Test Oil Spill Containment Equipment in Mission Bay

IMG_0391.JPGThe California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) facilitated an exercise today to test response strategies aimed at protecting environmentally sensitive sites in the event of an oil spill near Mission Bay. 

As part of the exercise, OSPR personnel and local oil spill responders stretched 800 feet of orange containment boom across the channel leading into the bay from Mission Point to Hospitality Point. There was no reported spill. These were test procedures to tailor a response and refine the contingency plan to best prevent oil from reaching Mission Bay and the mouth of the San Diego River in the event of a spill. 

“Drills like this not only allow us to test these strategies in real-time conditions, but are also good practice opportunities for local oil spill responders,” said OSPR Environmental Scientist Kris Wiese. 

Factors such as tidal patterns, currents and weather conditions affect how well boom and other equipment works. Testing a strategy helps experts from OSPR determine whether it is likely to be successful in the event of a spill or needs to be altered. 

Pictures from today’s events are available on the OSPR Facebook page. 

Background

CDFW’s Sensitive Site Strategy Evaluation Program (SSSEP) evaluates strategies selected from more than 600 sites statewide that are particularly vulnerable to an oil spill. These areas are identified in Area Contingency Plans (ACPs) and are rich in sensitive resources such as fish, birds and marine mammals. Many also include habitat for wildlife breeding, nesting and feeding.

ACPs cover the entire coastline and marine waters of California and include the state’s busiest port areas: San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles/Long Beach and San Diego. More than 50 state, federal and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, industry and the general public contribute to ACP development.  

Media Contact: Eric Laughlin, OSPR Communications, (916) 214-3279

 

UPDATE: Cleanup operations ongoing after pipeline spill in Ventura

For Immediate Release
Unified Command

Ventura, Calif. – A multi-agency response continues to manage cleanup operations in the area impacted by a June 23 pipeline spill in Hall Canyon, Ventura.

On-scene crews include 98 responders, who have recovered a significant amount of pooled oil utilizing vacuum trucks. Cleanup operations are complex due to steep terrain.

Air monitoring is being continually conducted to assure safety of residents and responders in the area.

Two wood rats, one gopher snake, a raccoon and a rabbit were collected in the area and are being processed by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network for confirmation and identification. It has yet to be confirmed whether or not the deaths were linked to this incident. Specially trained wildlife personnel continue to work at deterring wildlife from entering the spill area and continue to search for oiled wildlife.

The cause of the spill is under investigation, and the investigation is separate from the unified command response. The unified command consists of representatives from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Crimson Pipeline, which has taken responsibility for the incident.

The public and media are advised to avoid the spill area and keep pets on leashes. In addition, they should not attempt to rescue any observed oiled wildlife. Untrained individuals who attempt to rescue wildlife may cause more harm than good and may injure themselves in the process.

The number to report oiled wildlife is 877 UCD-OWCN (823-6926).

Residents wishing to file a claim can do so via email at claims@crimsonpl.com or by calling 562-285-4128.

For the safety of residents and responders, motorists who do not live in the area are asked to avoid Hall Canyon Road.

For more information, visit http://www.wildlife.ca.gov/OSPR/CalSpillWatch

Contact: Eric Laughlin, Cal Fish and Wildlife, 916-214-3279
Matt Rezvani, Crimson Pipeline, 562-656-7392

Cleanup, air monitoring ongoing after pipeline spill in Ventura

For Immediate Release
Unified Command

Ventura, Calif. – A multi-agency response has been established to manage cleanup operations in the area impacted by a June 23 pipeline spill in Hall Canyon, Ventura.

There have been no oiled wildlife observed or reported, and no oil has reached the ocean or other water.

Cleanup crews remain on-scene containing and recovering the oil. Resources include 98 responders and five vacuum trucks. Air monitoring is being continually conducted to assure safety of responders and residents in the area.  

The cause of the spill is under investigation. The unified command response will be independent of that investigation and includes representatives from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Crimson Pipeline, which has taken responsibility for the incident.

The public and media are advised to avoid the impacted area and keep pets on leashes. In addition, they should not attempt to rescue any observed oiled wildlife. Untrained individuals who attempt to rescue wildlife may cause more harm than good and may injure themselves in the process.

The number to report oiled wildlife is 877 UCD-OWCN (823-6926).

Residents wishing to file a claim can do so via email at claims@crimsonpl.com or by calling 562-285-4128. 

For more information, visit http://www.wildlife.ca.gov/OSPR/CalSpillWatch

Contacts

Eric Laughlin, Cal Fish and Wildlife, 916-214-3279
Kendall Klingler, Crimson Pipeline, 314-574-1875