All existing sea otter (Enhydra lutris) populations have suffered at least 1, and in some cases 2, population bottlenecks. The 1st occurred during the 18th and 19th centuries as a result of commercial hunting that eliminated sea otters from much their native range and reduced surviving populations to small remnants. The 2nd bottleneck occurred when small numbers of otters were reintroduced, via translocation, to areas where the species had been eliminated. We examined genetic variation at 7 microsatellite loci and the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region in 3 remnant populations, Amchitka Island (Aleutian Islands, Alaska), central coastal California, and Prince William Sound (Alaska), and in 2 reintroduced populations, southeast Alaska and Washington, that were founded with transplants from Amchitka, and in the case of southeast Alaska, individuals from Prince William Sound as well. We found no evidence of reduced genetic diversity in translocated populations. Average expected microsatellite heterozygosities (HE) were similar in all populations (range, 0.40–0.47), and mtDNA haplotype diversities were higher in reintroduced populations (0.51 for both Washington and southeast Alaska) than in remnant populations (X̄ = 0.35; range, 0.18–0.45). The levels of genetic diversity we observed within sea otter populations were relatively low when compared with other mammals and are thought to be the result of fur trade exploitation.
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