Sea otter pup 502 is settling into her exhibit on the morning that the news is in on the latest population count for the California population.
With only one cute pup on exhibit (plus mom), it doesn't take long to take a census of the sea otter exhibit. The consensus is that the pair are adorable, and if you haven't seen pup 502 in the fur yet, then you'll surely agree, once you check out this video taken on their first morning on exhibit.
But beyond the magic of watching a pup in close proximity is the sharp reminder that this pup is still undergoing treatment for a medical condition that will take months to recover from, and after that she won't be able to back to the wild.
That's one less female pup to grow up and have pups of her own to contribute to the population. And that's sadly a pattern being repeated up and down the California coast.
This year's Sea Otter Census by the U.S. Geological Survey shows the population is trending downward for the second consecutive year. The figure of 2,711 animals is the three year running average, which scientists believe is the best way to track population trends. That way, varying weather conditions for counting and spotting otters from shore and air, and other issues, are less of a factor.
For many years, the highest number of mortalities has been in females of breeding age; a sign of an unhealthy population. This continues to be true. The repercussions are now showing in the pup population - at it's lowest count since 2003.
California sea otters are both keystone and sentinel species. Their ill health signals problems in the food chain. As apex predators in their ecosystem, eating many of the same species we eat, they are warning us of contamination, disease, parasites and other things awry. Their voice should be heeded.
We wish our pup a speedy recovery and hope that she goes on to be an ambassador for her species, as our other exhibit otters have been for many years. Sea otters need all the friends they can get. If you haven't asked your senator to support the Sea Otter bill in the Senate - please do today!