SURVIVAL RATES OF SEA OTTER PUPS IN ALASKA AND CALIFORNIA

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Abstract

Adult female sea otters (Enhydra lutris) were instrumented with implanted radio-transmitters in Prince William Sound (PWS), Alaska, and survival rates were estimated for their dependent pups. Overall, 94 of 141 (67%) of the pups studied survived to a minimum age of 120 d and were assumed to have successfully weaned. Survival of pups in six cohorts ranged from 53% to 88%. The mean interval between successive visual observations was 12.5 d. For these calculations, the assumption was made that pups were successfully weaned if they accompanied mothers for at least 120 d. Estimated survival rates were different when this assumption was changed to either 90 d or 150 d (73% and 52%, respectively).

Females were palpated for pregnancy when instrumented. Of 19 believed to be pregnant, 17 were subsequently seen with young pups giving a detection rate for births of 89.5%. When the above observed survival rate of pups was adjusted for undetected births, the estimated overall survival rate for the study population was 60% (120 d minimum dependency).

Survival rates of pups in PWS and a population at Kodiak Archipelago (KOD) (Monson and DeGange 1995) were compared with that of pups in the population in California (CA, four studies). These data did not support the hypothesis that survival rates were lower in California (CA: 103/160, Psurv. 0.64; PWS: 94/141, Psurv.= 0.67; KOD: 19/23, Psurv.= 0.83; pairwise comparisons, X2, P > 0.05). Comparison of pup survival rates among studies was hindered by small sample sizes, methodological differences, and lack of detail about assumptions underlying estimates.

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