About Sea Otters
Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are marine mammals that live in the North Pacific Ocean, along the coasts of Japan, Russia, Canada,
and the United States (Alaska and as far south as California). A few hundred years ago sea otters were plentiful. Then hunters
discovered their fur, the thickest coat of all animals. By the early 1900s sea otters were nearly extinct, and governments
stepped in to protect the few small, isolated groups that remained. In Alaska, the sea otter population grew significantly
over the following decades, and in the 1960s and 1970s, some Alaskan sea otters were relocated to suitable coastal waters
elsewhere in Alaska as well as to British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Today there are approximately 110,000 sea otters
in the world. In the United States, sea otters are listed as threatened, while in Canada they are listed as a species of
Special Concern (a recent improvement over their earlier designations of Endangered, then Threatened).
These well-adapted animals spend their whole lives in the cold ocean near shore. Sea otters dive for food, eat, groom, play,
float, mate, give birth, and sleep in the water, and haul out on land only when injured, ill, or in extreme danger. Their homes
are in kelp forests (large seaweed, or as Kah-Lan calls them, sea-trees) and bays, usually in rocky areas.
The kelp forests where sea otters live also provide homes for fish, hiding places for grey whale calves, spawning grounds for
herring, and protection against shoreline erosion and even climate change. Kelp is also food for sea urchins. By feeding on the
sea urchins that eat kelp, sea otters prevent sea urchins from destroying these important kelp forests.
Sea otters can get tangled in fishing nets and drown, and pollution, disease, and parasites are serious threats. The greatest
danger of all is an oil spill. Oil quickly soils a sea otter's coat, allowing cold water to reach the sea otter's skin. As the
sea otter tries to clean its fur, it breathes and swallows the harmful oil. After an oil spill, a sea otter will not survive
without help from marine mammal rescue experts.
It is illegal to approach, touch, or move sea otters. People should stay at least 100 metres away from sea otters. This is
for the safety of the animals and the public. Sea otters have extremely sharp teeth and powerful jaws—designed to crack
hard-shelled prey—and therefore their strong bite can crush a person's hand, easily breaking bones. As the number of sea otters
grows and the animals spread farther along North America's west coast, interactions with humans will become more common.
If you discover a sea otter in distress, contact the nearest marine mammal rescue agency.