Otter mortality up in Cordova area

Posted: Sunday, May 21, 2000

CORDOVA (AP) -- Sea otters have been dying in unprecedented numbers along Cordova beaches in recent years, and so far scientists haven't figured out an exact cause.

Doug Burn, a supervising biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in the past couple of years, there has been a high mortality of male sea otters.

Last winter, the Cordova-area representative on the federal Sea Otter and Sea Lion Commission picked up more than 100 otter carcasses while walking along the beaches near Cordova, Burn said, and numbers for 1998 may be as high.

Among the theories advanced so far are that the otters are dying from eating fish-processing waste, that the otters are dying of old age for the first time in recorded history, or that the otter population has grown beyond its local food supply.

Linda Comerci, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, dismissed the old-age theory by pointing out that many of the carcasses washed up on the beach were animals in the prime.

Burn said the carcasses yielded evidence that the dead otters had been feeding on fish waste from processing plants.

''They had very high parasite loads and lots of bones in their digestive tracts,'' Burn said. ''The big question is why sea otters are turning to feeding on fish waste.''

Comerci said that the otters may have become attached to the Cordova area by a ready supply of easy pickings from fish waste.

''That the prime-age ones have started dying in the last couple years gives us a little concern,'' she said.

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