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Translocated sea otter populations off the coasts of Oregon and Washington

January 1, 1998

The historical distribution of sea otters extended from the northern islands of Japan north and east across the Aleutian chain to the mainland of North America then south along the west coast to central Baja California, Mexico (Riedman and Estes 1990). By the beginning of the twentieth century, after 150 years of being intensively hunted for their valuable fur, sea otters had been extirpated from most of their range (Kenyon 1969). In 1911 sea otters were protected by the passage of the International Fur Seal Treaty. Unfortunately, only 13 remnant populations survived the fur-hunting period, and two of those, British Columbia and Mexico, would also ultimately disappear, leaving only a small group of sea otters south of Alaska, along the rugged Big Sur coast of California (Kenyon 1969).

The earliest attempts to reestablish sea otters to unoccupied habitat were begun in the early 1950’s by R. D. (Sea Otter) Jones, then manager of the Aleutian National Wildlife Refuge (Kenyon 1969). These early efforts were experimental, and all failed to establish populations. However, the knowledge gained from Jones’s efforts and the seminal work of Kenyon (1969) and others during the 1950’s and early 1960’s ultimately led to the successful efforts to come.

During the mid-1960’s the Alaska Department of Fish and Game began translocating sea otters to sites where the species had occurred before the fur-trade period. The first translocations were restricted to Alaska, but beginning in 1969 and continuing through 1972, the effort expanded beyond Alaska. During this period, 241 sea otters were translocated to sites in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon (Jameson et al. 1982). The work was done cooperatively between state and provincial conservation agencies, with much of the financial support for the Oregon and Washington efforts coming from the Atomic Energy Commission (now ERDA). Followup studies of the Oregon population began in 1971 and continued through 1975. After 1975, surveys in Oregon occurred infrequently. In Washington no follow-up surveys were conducted until 1977, although the population has been monitored closely since then (Jameson et al. 1982, 1986; Jeffries and Jameson 1995).

Citation Information

Publication Year 1998
Title Translocated sea otter populations off the coasts of Oregon and Washington
Authors Ronald J. Jameson
Publication Type Book Chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Index ID 87325
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center