SAN FRANCISCO -- California's endangered population of southern sea otters declined slightly during the past year, an annual census showed, but on average their numbers have been increasing for more than 20 years.
Observers counted 2,735 otters along the California coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Barbara, a 3.2 percent decrease from the year before, according to Brian Hatfield, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.
To monitor the population trend more realistically, however, observers maintain three-year averages of their count, and the running average for the past three years shows an 8 percent increase. Last year's count reached a record high of 2,825 animals. In 1983, when the annual spring census began, only 1,277 animals were counted.