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Annual Southern Sea Otter Census Cancelled Due to Health and Safety Concerns

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the USGS and partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have decided to cancel this year's annual rangewide southern sea otter census.

WERC Sea otter at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
A sea otter at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve near Moss Landing, Calif.

Normally, the census is conducted in May using a combination of ground and aerial survey counts. However, this year the COVID-related issues have led to unsurmountable logistical difficulties due to safety precautions and distancing requirements.

The annual southern sea otter surveys, conducted cooperatively by scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Monterey Bay Aquarium and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the help of experienced volunteers, cover about 375 miles of California coast, from Half Moon Bay south to Santa Barbara, and include a spring survey at San Nicolas Island. The information gathered is used by federal and state wildlife agencies in making sea otter-related management decisions.

The survey has been completed every year since 1982, except for 2011, which was not completed due to weather conditions. Spring survey results are used as an indicator of the population trend of California sea otters. However, no single year's survey result is indicative of a population change, and assessment of population trends are based on a three-year average.

The health and safety of scientists, volunteers, and wildlife are the top priority for the USGS and partners. The annual southern sea otter census will continue as planned in 2021, pending future decisions made as the COVID-19 situation develops.

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