MONTEREY, Calif., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Scientists say the number of sea otters found dead along the California coast due to shark bites has risen sharply in recent years.
Last year, 70 sea otters washed ashore between San Mateo County and Santa Barbara showing signs of shark attacks. Today, 30 percent of sea otters found dead along the California coast have been killed by sharks. In the mid-1990s, it was only 10 percent.
Scientists are at a loss to explain what is causing the sudden increase in shark attacks. Mike Murray, staff veterinarian at the Monterey Bay Aquarium told Mercury News:
"Is it because the sharks are changing their behavior, or is there a change in the number of sharks? Or is there something wrong with the otters?" he said. "Are these otters sick and maybe doing something at the surface of the water that attracts a predator? Or are they unable to avoid predators?"
The federally designated threatened animal still struggles to recover its numbers, and the recent spike in shark attacks is now one of the most significant hurdles.
Activists also decry a new piece of legislation introduced into congress this week would allow the Navy to continue testing weaponry on remote Channel Island. Many say this would endanger the area's otter population by exempting the Navy from provisions of the Endangered Species Act and Marine Animal Protection Act.
The bill also includes requirements to ensure the populations of commercially harvested shellfish and endangered abalone.
Steve Shimek, executive director of The Otter Project, told the Santa Cruz Sentinel he thinks the bill should be called "S.O.S., Sacrifice Otters for Shellfish."
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