The Southern sea otter has been an iconic member of California’s coastal communities since it was brought back from the brink of extinction in the mid 1900’s. Often referred to as California sea otters, these marine mammals serve as a mascot for the great intrinsic value Californians attribute to our coastline and the wildlife that call these unique habitats home. So when the news was recently released of three Southern sea otters being killed by gunshot wounds and found at Asilomar Beach, in Pacific Grove, CA in August and September 2013, Defenders and our partners knew we had to do something to aid the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their ongoing investigation.
Defenders has partnered with multiple organizations and wildlife agencies to establish a joint reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of the individual(s) who are responsible for these brutal killings. One of these partners is the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has been able to contribute to the joint reward through the California Sea Otter Fund. This dedicated fund is financed entirely through voluntary contributions from individuals who donate through their California state income tax form in order to save sea otters.
Since 2007, the California Sea Otter Fund has enabled sea otter researchers and advocates to protect sea otters from population decline caused by both human and natural impacts. The fund goes directly to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Coastal Conservancy. These groups work collaboratively with multiple partners on research, ecosystem conservation and community education for the continued expansion of sea otter populations along the California coast.
Though sea otter populations are slowly growing, their numbers are continuously low enough to still be considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Coastal water pollution and disease are for the main contributors to the lack of significant sea otter population growth in California. Research funded through the California Sea Otter Fund has helped determine these causes and can offer the critical support necessary to reduce their impacts on sea otters and other marine wildlife.
The California Sea Otter Fund is an initiative that has continuously been supported by thousands of Californians. Over $2 million has been contributed to the fund in the seven years it has existed. But each year, the fund must meet a minimum contribution requirement set forth by the California Franchise Tax Board in order to make it onto next year’s income tax form. The 2014 requirement was raised to $277,666, which is higher than it has ever been. Unfortunately, the amount that Californians have been able to voluntarily contribute may not continue to meet the rising requirement – in fact, it’s a very tangible possibility that the requirement might not be met this year. This would be a devastating loss of resources for critical sea otter conservation programs.
If you plan to file California state income taxes this year, please consider contributing to the California Sea Otter Fund. This support from Californians has helped sea otter populations from Half Moon Bay to Santa Barbara grow each and every year. And, hopefully, it will be this support that finally boosts Southern sea otter numbers enough to no longer be threatened with extinction. Click here to learn how to contribute.
Don’t live California? You can still help save sea otters by adopting one of these marvelous marine mammals. Not only will you be sharing your appreciation for this imperiled species, but you’ll also be helping to support Defenders’ work on their behalf. Click here to visit our Wildlife Adoption Center.
Haley Stewart, California Program Associate