The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting a big jump in the number of dead sea otters found along the California coastline.

The San Francisco Chronicle writes that the agency reported more than 300 deaths last year, up 30 percent from 2009.

One of the main concerns is the rise in female otter and pup deaths. Steve Shimek, founder of the Otter Project, a nonprofit organization that supports sea otter population said this is especially troubling because “the reproductive potential of the population is being decreased.”

About 20 percent of the deaths in 2010 were caused by predators. But of more concern is that half were killed by disease, which many scientists believe could be telling us something about the health of our ocean water.

A count in the spring put the sea otter population in California at a little more than 2,700.

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Photo Credit: By Mike Baird from Morro Bay, USA (, via Wikimedia Commons