California's iconic and long-embattled sea otters are now threatened by what appears to be an increased presence of predatory great white sharks.The state's Department of Fish and Game on Wednesday said it had collected 19 injured or dead shark-bitten otters in August, and seven so far in September. The August figure was a record number.
Water temperatures off the central coast are unseasonably cool and that might help explain the apparent presence of more white sharks than during a normal summer.
Interestingly, white sharks do not typically prey on otters. Adult white sharks prefer larger elephant seals and California sea lions. Their primary feeding grounds are near rookeries at Año Nuevo and the Farallon Islands.
"This would explain why the majority of the otters collected have a single bite mark," DFG scientist Michael Harris said in a news release. "These bites are more investigative -- like a taste test."
Some scientists believe white sharks are growing in number off California because of longstanding protective measures, such as a shark-fishing ban and outlawing the use of gill-nets in coastal waters.
Harris, however, said a reliable population estimate does not exist.
California's charismatic sea otters, once hunted to the brink of extinction, have been struggling as a species for various reasons -- pollution, malnutrition and shark attacks among them. They have been in decline for two consecutive years and now number about 2,700 animals, which reside within a 200-mile range from about Pigeon Point to Gaviota State Park.
-- Pete Thomas-- Editor's note: This post, with a different photo display, also appears on the GrindTv outdoors blog