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The California or southern sea otter Enhydra lutris nereis is the only sea otter subspecies currently listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act The California sea otter is also a fully protected mammal by California state law and by the Marine Mammal Protection Act In the 1700s the sea otters were hunted to near extinction for their fur In the late 1930s a small population of otters estimated at approximately 300 was discovered along Californias Big Sur coast The California population is estimated at a mere 2000 as of Fall 2001 Historically there were between 16000 to 20000 sea otters along the coast of California Sea otters are classified as both an umbrella species and a keystone species As an umbrella species the protections made for the sea otter will essentially affect a large number of other species in their ecosystem A keystone species is a term used to refer to the sea otters functional role within their ecosystem The feeding habits of the sea otters have a crucial effect on their ecological system and their actions affect many of the organisms within their food chain The sea otters can be referred to as indicators of the health of their ecosystem Many causes have been recognized as contributing to the population decline shark attacks gunshot wounds mating activities fishingnet line injuries habitat degradation lack of an adequate food supply land and water pollution and disease In a 1996 report nearly 1700 sea otter deaths had been documented The report stated that 189 of the deaths were from some sort of trauma 12 from shark attacks 46 from gunshot wounds 23 from mating activities 46 from fishingnet line injuries 165 due to dependent animals 4 from natural causes and 56 of the deaths were undetermined From 1992 to 1995 the National Wildlife Heath Center had examined approximately 50 sea otter carcasses per year as part
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