Sea otter population, once nearly extinct, is again growing

The iconic sea otter of California continues its slow recovery from the brink of extinction but faces an uncertain future because of high levels of disease and vulnerability to oil spills.

That's one of the main conclusions of a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the status of the California sea otter. The 10-page report examines population trends and estimates how many of the animals, also known as southern sea otters, are killed by humans each year.

The agency produced the stock assessment after it was sued by the Center for Biological Diversity. Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the group, said she is encouraged by the fact that the otter population grows by an average of 5 percent a year.

But the agency said the otter population faces significant risks, estimating that no more than nine otters can be killed by human activity each year without endangering the survival of the species. Shootings, boat strikes, debris entanglement and accidents during research activities are all human-related causes of otter deaths and claim an average of 6.6 animals a year.

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