© Sebastian Kennerknecht/Minden Pictures
For the California sea otter, the struggle to survive is epic. After being hunted to near extinction about a century ago, these sleek marine mammals have struggled to recover—facing threats such as oil spills, fishing gear entrapment, food supply shortages and diseases.
Last spring U.S. Geological Survey scientists announced the disappointing results of the latest sea otter census: a decline in the three-year otter population average for the first time in more than a decade.
The good news is Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act in October, which aims to ensure vital funding that could allow researchers to unravel the reasons behind the sea otter's decline.
"This bill couldn't come soon enough," says Jim Curland, Defenders' marine program associate and a long-time advocate for sea otter recover. "Sea otters are struggling. But I'm hopeful that this will be a bill that provides the lifeline that sea otters need to keep their heads above the water."
If passed, the legislation would authorize $5 million a year in research funding for five years.
"Sen. Boxer has been a longtime champion and supporter of sea otter research and conservation efforts and we greatly appreciate her leadership in introducing the act," says Curland.
California taxpayers can also help to fund research to save this iconic species by checking a box on their 2010 state income-tax form to donate any amount they desire, starting at $1. Last year, Californians donated more than $250,000.