The sea otters can also be considered a bellwether species, indicating the overall health of the coastal waters they inhabit. It's an overall population drop of 3.6 percent and an 11 percent decline in pups.
There's a lot of possible reasons for the decline, not least of which is the dramatic storms and El Nino conditions of last winter. David Sneed added more detail to the situation in the San Luis Obispo Tribune on Friday, http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2010/08/05/1241462/threatened-wildlife-population.html. That's where research would help. Unfortunately, one of the funds that supports research is going begging. The California Sea Otter Fund, which gets its money from a voluntary checkoff, is $31,000 short of its target, which is $258,563. According to the article, the fund accepts money only from the taxpayer checkoff -- there's no way for the public to donate.