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Lontra felina

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
ANIMALIA CHORDATA MAMMALIA CARNIVORA MUSTELIDAE

Scientific Name: Lontra felina
Species Authority: (Molina, 1782)
Common Name(s):
English Marine Otter, Sea Cat
Spanish Chinchimen, Chichimen, Chingungo, Gato de Mar, Gato Marino, Huallaca, Nutria de Mar
French Chungungo, Loutre de mer
Synonym(s):
Lutra felina Molina, 1782
Taxonomic Notes: The use of Lutra for three the New World otter species (L. felina, L. canadiensis, L. longicaudis) has been widespread in the past. Van Zyll de Jong (1972, 1987) separated this group into the genus Lontra based on morphological criteria, which was confirmed by Wozencraft (1993). Koepfli and Wayne (1998) and Koepfli et al. (2008) re-confirmed this classification based molecular data. Thus, nowadays the generic name Lontra should be accepted as valid for all New World otters (except Pteronura).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A3cde ver 3.1
Year Published: 2015
Date Assessed: 2014-06-01
Assessor(s): Valqui, J. & Rheingantz, M.L.
Reviewer(s): Hussain, S.A. & Duplaix, N.
Contributor(s): Alvarez, R. & Medina-Vogel, G.
Justification:

The Marine Otter is confirmed as Endangered on the basis of inferred future population decline due to habitat loss and exploitation. The Marine Otter has a restricted distribution along the Pacific coast from northern Peru along the Chilean coast to Cape Horn and Isla de Los Estados in Argentina. It is patchily distributed from Peru to Tierra del Fuego. Its distribution north of 39°S latitude is becoming highly fragmented because of exploitation, pollution and increased human occupation along the seashores. Poaching is still present in many regions, especially south of 39ºS latitude, where there is little or no enforcement of protective legislation. The greatest threats to its continuous existence are accelerating habitat destruction, degradation, and competition for prey, accidental kill in crab pots and poaching throughout the range. The original range of Marine Otter has decreased considerably because of excessive hunting (Redford and Eisenberg 1992), and the species has been nearly exterminated from the regions of Cape Horn and southern Tierra del Fuego (Brownell 1978) as well as from the northern extremities of its former range (Chehebar 1990).


Additionally, Marine Otters are persecuted and killed directly for alleged damage to local fish, bivalves, and shrimp populations (Miller et al. 1983, Redford and Eisenberg 1992, Apaza et al. 2004).) Illegal fishing techniques (e.g. dynamite fishing, accidental death by entanglement (bycatch) in fishing nets) are a frequent problem in several localities of the Peruvian coast, such as Huarmey (Valqui 2012) and Paracas (Apaza et al. 2004, Valqui 2012). Pollution of the Marine Otter's habitat comes from several centres of industrial fishing activity like Chimbote (probably the most important fishing port at the Peruvian coast) and mining cities Ite, Ilo and Marcona in Peru, where tailings have been spilled directly into the ocean for over 40 years, altering several kilometres of the littoral (Apaza et al. 2004).


A common denominator for all regions is that there is very law enforcement regarding the Marine Otter´s conservation status and protection, as hunting or killings on fish farms do not implicate consequences to the offenders. Global natural factors like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) also may considerably affect the marine otter population (Vianna et al. 2010), due to the more or less drastic climatic and oceanographic changes that cause the mortality of several marine communities from fish to mammals (Apaza and Figari 1999, Wang and Fiedler 2006).


These threats are inferred to result in future population reductions of at least 50% over the next three generations (30 years Pacifici et al. 2013) unless conservation measures are strengthened. Therefore it is proposed to keep the Marine Otter listed under the category Endangered based on criterion A3cde.

History:
2004 Endangered
2000 Endangered
1996 Endangered
1996 Endangered

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:

The Marine Otter is distributed along the southern Pacific Coast of South America from Chimbote (9°S) in northern Peru (Valqui 2012), to Isla Grevy (56°S) at the southern tip of Chile (Sielfeld 1997) and eastwards to the Isla de los Estados (54°S), in Argentina (Parera 1996).  In 1964, Schweigger reported Lontra felina up to the Isla Lobos de Tierra (6° 26'S) in northern Peru. Studies of the last decades registered the northern range limit at Chimbote (9°S) (Brack 1978, Brownell 1978, Larivière 1998, Apaza et al. 2004, Sánchez and Ayala 2006, Valqui et al. 2010). Recent sightings in Huanchaco (8°S) suggest at least occasional events of recolonization north to the actual northern limit of distribution range, yet reasons for appearance or disappearance in these areas remain unclear (Alfaro-Shigueto et al. 2011). In the south the species´ presence is unclear in the XVth, Ist, XIth and XIIth regions and in the Tierra del Fuego region in Argentina (Cassini 2008).


Although Redford and Eisenberg (1992) stated that “The original range of Lontra felina has decreased considerably because of excessive hunting in the past decades“, the authors do not mention any specific regions or study cases.  Brownell (1978) stated that ”the species has been nearly exterminated from the regions of Cape Horn and southern Tierra del Fuego” but several works (Sielfeld 1989, 1990, 1992; Sielfeld and Castilla 1999) reported the species' presence between 49°S (Puerto Orella) and 55°S (Isla Grevy).


The Marine Otter´s habitat is naturally fragmented in a very heterogeneous alternation of suitable habitat (rocky shore patches with caves or, sometimes, docks, shipwrecks or abandoned fishing boats) and unsuitable habitat (sandy beaches or rocky shoreline without caves). Thus, Marine Otters may be absent in several hundreds of kilometres of coast throughout the species´ total distribution range (Redford and Eisenberg 1992, Vianna et al. 2010, Valqui 2012).

Countries:
Native:
Argentina; Chile; Peru
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Native:
Atlantic – southwest; Pacific – southeast
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:

The density estimates proposed by various authors are very variable (from 0.04 to 10 individuals per kilometre, see Castilla and Bahamondes 1979, Castilla 1982, Cabello 1983, Rozzi and Torres-Mura 1990, Ebensperger and Castilla 1991, Sanchez 1992, Sielfeld 1992, Medina-Vogel 1995, Apaza et al. 2004, Mangel and Alfaro-Shigueto 2004, Medina-Vogel et al. 2006), therefore the reported numbers are to be taken with care. Survey numbers and abundance estimations are highly dependent on the methodology applied (Valqui 2012) and detecting individuals on the rocky shores is very difficult. The fact that the species is solitary or only present in very small groups (not larger than ten individuals) makes it difficult to determine if the species is abundant in one specific area. Nevertheless a global population of about 800 to 2,000 individuals is proposed for the Peruvian coast (ca 150 km) by Valqui (2012), 

Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Lontra felina is the only species of the genus Lontra that is found exclusively in marine habitats. It uses coastlines with range extending approximately 30 m inland and 100-150 m of sea offshore (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979). The species inhabits marine areas exposed to heavy seas and strong wind (Cabello 1978, Ostfeld et al. 1989) and prefers rocky shores with caves that are above water at high tide, as well as areas with large algae communities offering a wide abundance and diversity of prey species (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979). Sandy beaches offer marginal habitat (Sielfeld 1989) and typically are used only for travel between dens and water (Ebensperger and Castilla 1992). Marine Otters are, for the most part, restricted to marine waters, but may occasionally travel up freshwater rivers in search of prey (Brownell 1978, Cabello 1978, Redford and Eisenberg 1992). Because not all coastlines are suitable, marine otters are found in disjunct populations throughout their distribution range (Redford and Eisenberg 1992).

The fact that Marine Otters are solitary or only gathering in small groups suggests high ecological requirements regarding space. The species' preference for coastal waters offering a wide abundance and diversity of prey species (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979) is in conflict with the increasing artisan and industrial fishing effort. Marine Otters are top predators with a high metabolic rate, thus pollution of their environments may affect them more than other species, as their position in the food chain leads to high bioaccumulation of heavy metals, pesticides and other toxic elements.

The Marine Otter diet is composed mostly of invertebrates, including crustaceans (decapods, shrimps, and crabs) and molluscs (bivalves and gastropods), and vertebrate prey, including fish from the families Blennidae, Cheilodactylidae, Gobiesocidae, and Pomacentridae, and occasionally birds and small mammals (Cabello 1978, Castilla and Bahamondes 1979, Ostfeld et al. 1989, Sielfeld 1990). Along the Valdivian coast in the south of Chile the diet of marine otter consisted of 25 species; 52% (13/25) of the species identified were crustaceans, 40% (10/25) were fish, and 8% (2/25) were molluscs. Crustaceans were found in 78% of 475 spraints, 100% of 929 prey remains, and 90.8% of prey determined by direct observation, fish in 20% of spraints and 9.0% of prey determined by direct observation, and molluscs in 2% of spraints and 0.2% of prey determined by direct observation. Observed seasonal variation in prey availability was reflected in the otter diet. Fourteen prey species were trapped; 43% (6/14) were crustaceans and 57% (8/14) fish, crustaceans were 93% of 566 trapped individuals, fish 7%. L. felina showed opportunistic feeding behaviour, selecting prey seasonally according to their availability rather than to their energy input (Medina-Vogel et al. 2004). 

Some studies have found that fruits (Greigia sphacelata, Fascicularia bicolor) may also be consumed on occasion (Brownell 1978, Cabello 1978, Medina 1995). Marine Otters may compete with gulls (Larus) and the South American Sea Lion (Otaria flavescens) for similar species of prey fish (Cabello 1978). The most important natural predator of the Marine Otter is the Killer Whale (Orcinus orca; Cabello 1978), but adults also may be killed by sharks (Parera 1996) and birds of prey may capture juveniles when on land (Cabello 1983).

The Marine Otter is most likely a monogamous species. Mating typically occurs during December or January (Cabello 1978) with gestation of 60-65 days (Housse 1953, Sielfield 1989). Parturition usually occurs from January to March. It takes place in a den or on shore between rocky outcroppings and vegetation. The litter size varies from two to four young, with two being observed most frequently. Young Marine Otters remain with their parents for approximately ten months. Adults transport their young by carrying them in their mouths or resting the young on their bellies as they swim on their backs. Both adults in the monogamous pair bring prey back to the den to feed their young (Parera 1996). When not breeding, Marine Otters are mostly solitary. The group size is seldom more than two to three individuals. Its activity pattern is generally diurnal, with peaks of activity noted in early morning, mid-afternoon, and evenings. Marine Otters are much more agile in the water than on land.
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: For Use and Trade information see under Threats.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s):

Hunting was the major threat on the Marine Otter in the 20th Century (Sielfeld and Castilla 1999). 38 000 otter pelts were exported from Chile between 1910 and 1954 (Iriarte and Jaksic 1986). Although two otter species (L. provocax and L. felina) were subsumed as “otters” and no hunting estimate of each species can be inferred from this data, these numbers show the magnitude of the pelt industry in the 20th Century. Today, the lack of demand in the pelt market and fur trade prohibitions, have diminished the hunting threat considerably. Nonetheless, illegal hunting for fur and trophies still occurs in some areas as Samanco, (Sánchez and Ayala 2006), La Libertad (15°29'S) and Morro Sama (18°00'S) (Apaza et al. 2004), Peru and south of 39°S latitude in Chile.


In the last decades, the major threats derive from an intensive urbanization of western South America, where the immense anthropogenic pressure on the coastal ecosystem accelerates habitat degradation and increases its fragmentation (Brownell 1978, Eisenberg and Redford 1989, Sielfield and Castilla 1999, Medina-Vogel et al. 2008, Vianna et al. 2010). It is not yet clear at what point these fragmentation forces will cause isolation to result in local extinction events due to lack of gene flow (Valqui 2012). In any case, these global changes will trigger many specific more local threats in different regions. In and around human settlements, big dens with terrestrial entrances may be occupied by dogs, cats and rats, displacing the Marine Otter from its reproduction, feeding and resting areas (Apaza et al. 2003, Valqui 2012). Dog attacks are increasingly reported in several locations of the distribution (Medina-Vogel et al. 2008, Mangel et al. 2010, Vianna et al. 2010).


Industrial and artisan fishing ports have been established along the Pacific coast, affecting structure and productivity of marine life communities. Although Lontra felina shows certain capacity to coexist with humans, for example in fishing ports (Valqui 2004, Ruiz 2009, Medina-Vogel et al. 2007), fishing has intensified global natural declines in the abundance of many forage fishes, leading to reduced reproductive success and reduced abundance of birds and marine mammals (Majluf et al. 2002). The human-otter coexistence implies competition for resources that humans exploit for food, commerce and housing (Moreno et al. 1984; Ostfeld et al. 1989; Moreno 2001; Medina-Vogel et al. 2004, 2007, 2008), as it is the case of mariculture (crabs and molluscs (Apaza et al. 2004). Additionally, marine otters may be persecuted and killed directly for alleged damage to local fish, bivalves, and shrimp populations (Miller et al. 1983, Redford and Eisenberg 1992, Apaza et al. 2004).). Illegal fishing techniques (e.g. dynamite fishing) are a frequent problem in several localities of the Peruvian coast, such as Huarmey (Valqui 2012) and Paracas (Apaza et al. 2004, Valqui 2012). Industrial ships have frequently been observed fishing closer to the coast than allowed by law (Apaza et al. 2004), perturbing the coastal habitat on a broader scale. Another threat for Marine Otters is accidental death by entanglement (bycatch) in fishing nets (Brownell 1978, Mangel and Alfaro-Shigueto 2004, Pizarro 2008) and in crab pots (Medina-Vogel et al. 2004), although the dimension of these mortality cases is unknown.


Pollution of the Marine Otter´s habitat comes from several centres of industrial fishing activity like Chimbote (probably the most important fishing port at the Peruvian coast) and mining cities Ite, Ilo and Marcona in Peru, where tailings have been spilled directly into the ocean for over 40 years, altering several kilometres of the littoral (Apaza et al. 2004).


Additionally, spills of domestic effluents reach the ocean directly or through rivers (Hinrichsen 1998, Thorne-Miller 1999). Thus, heavy metals and other toxic substances can be diffused through currents and progressively transmitted through the food chain at least in a regional level (Valqui 2004, Apaza et al. 2004). Oil spillage and extreme noise affect the species in areas near beach resorts in the vicinity of big cities (Valqui 2004).


A common denominator for all regions is that there is very law enforcement regarding the Marine Otter´s conservation status and protection, as hunting or killings on fish farms do not implicate consequences to the offenders.


Global natural factors like the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) also may considerably affect the Marine Otter population (Vianna et al. 2010), due to the more or less drastic climatic and oceanographic changes that cause the mortality of several marine communities from fish to mammals (Apaza and Figari 1999, Wang and Fiedler 2006).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The Marine Otter is protected in Argentina, Chile, and Peru. It is listed in Appendix I of CITES (Nowak 1991) and in Appendix I of the Bonn Convention (Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)).

Citation: Valqui, J. & Rheingantz, M.L. 2015. Lontra felina. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015.2. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 02 September 2015.
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