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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A record number of shark-bitten sea otters were found last month along the state’s Central Coast, possibly because cooler ocean temperatures that create ideal conditions for sharks, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.

The agency said this week that scientists collected 19 injured or dead otters in August that appeared to have shark bites. Seven otters with similar marks have already been found this month.

Officials say the 10-year average for August is seven, and for September is six.

While the preferred prey for white sharks is seals and sea lions, scientists believe the increase in otter injuries and deaths due to shark bites may be due to an unusually mild summer that cooled ocean temperatures.

“White sharks do not typically feed on sea otters,” said Michael Harris, environmental scientist with the agency’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response. “This would explain why the majority of the otters collected have a single bite mark. These bites are more investigative — like a taste test.”

Sightings of white sharks may also have increased this year, according to the state agency, but there are no population estimates for the predators.

(© Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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