Gary Griggs, Our Ocean Backyard | Otter and pelican populations rebound

The announcement last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that 23 more species are now officially declared extinct was a sobering reminder of our collective human impacts on this diverse group of organisms. The list includes 11 birds, eight freshwater mussels, two fish, a bat and a plant. Many of these were probably extinct, or close to it, when the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.

On the positive side, since the passage of the act 48 years ago, 54 species in the United States have been removed from the endangered list because their populations have recovered, while another 48 have improved enough to be moved from endangered to threatened; not completely out of the woods, but good signs. Closer to home here on the central coast, The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the elimination of DDT were both important steps in bringing back the southern sea otter, the brown pelican and the peregrine falcon from the brink of extinction.

The southern sea otter was hunted for its fur by the Russians from the late 1700s to the mid-1800s when they were thought to have become extinct. In 1938, however, when the Big Sur Highway was completed, a group of about 90 otters was seen on the Big Sur coast near Bixby Creek. Thanks to protection, this group has in the subsequent years slowly grown to a population of about 3,000 at present.

The peregrine falcon population is another success story, due in large part to the dedicated and sustained efforts of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group based at UC Santa Cruz. The high concentrations of DDT in these birds led to very thin eggshells and the loss of the chicks. With the elimination of DDT these unique and amazing raptors have rebounded to a population today of about 300 breeding pairs in California. 10-09-21

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