The Associated Press
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. – More than 20 sea otters have been
discovered dead or sick along a bay in central California in the past
week, and scientists suspect a natural marine toxin.
The dead or sickened animals represent nearly 1 percent of the wild
population of the southern sea otter, a threatened species protected
under federal law. Many were found comatose or suffering from
seizures or muscle tremors, scientists said Wednesday.
Wildlife experts believe the otters may have eaten mussels, clams and
scallops contaminated with domoic acid – a naturally occurring toxin
found in algae blooms at this time of year.
Post-mortem examinations on 12 otters and tests on tissue samples are
expected to reveal what killed or sickened the animals.
Other marine mammals, birds and humans can also suffer nervous
system damage from eating shellfish and fish that contain domoic acid.
The state Department of Health Services has warned the public not to
eat sport-caught shellfish in San Luis Obispo County.
Only 2,505 otters were counted in their current range between Santa
Barbara and Half Moon Bay during a 2003 census. The population must
exceed 3,000 to be taken off the federal government’s list of
A year ago this month, 48 otters died, the highest short-term
mortality rate in modern times. Their deaths were attributed to
marine toxins, shark bites and parasites, including one linked to cat
April 16, 2004 8:23 AM