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Live from the Olympic Peninsula: Sea otter population: 500,000 pre-fur trade, down to 1-2,000 in early 1900s, now back at 100,000...

Michael Carman: Sea Otter Madness Close to Hoh Head:

THE CALLS POURED in. To the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, to the National Parks Service and to the Olympic Coast Marine Sanctuary. Have you seen all those sea otters? What visitors were spying off the Pacific Ocean coastline, a raft of hundreds upon hundreds of sea otters, was unusual in both scope and location.

“They just look like a dark brown carpet when they are going up and down on the swell,” said Steve Jeffries, a research scientist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Marine Mammal Investigations unit. “It's a pretty spectacular sight.”

And an unusual one so close to shore. “Typically these large group are further offshore near Destruction Island, so people at Kalaloch and Ruby Beach don't ever see them,” Jeffries said. “There were almost as many otters in that one raft as we counted for the entire range in Washington for 2004.”

The sea otter sightings dovetailed with the annual aerial and ground surveys of the species conducted late last month by Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, the Seattle Aquarium, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium and the Makah and Quinault tribes.

Jeffries said he came upon the large raft of sea otters near Hoh Head, a point of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean, just north of the mouth of the Hoh River. “This group of 687 animals is the largest group, the largest raft of sea otters I have seen,” said Jeffries, who participated in the first such count as a grad student in 1978 and has worked on the surveys as a Fish and Wildlife employee since 1980.