Alaskan sea otters being added to endangered species list

Suffering population declines that are baffling scientists, the sea otters of southwest Alaska are being designated a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, which entitles the furry marine mammals to stronger federal protections. Government biologists plan to investigate why their numbers have plummeted from tens of thousands in the late 1980s to less than 9,000 today. Hungry orcas alone probably don’t account for the steep population decline, say many scientists, and typical factors like disease and starvation don’t fully explain it either. “The loss of sea otters is an indication that there are some things going on out there in the ecosystem that we don’t really understand,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Doug Burn. Adding to the mystery, otter populations farther east in Alaska and on the Russian side of the Aleutian Islands are doing far better. Eco-advocates are urging the feds to identify critical otter habitat ASAP.