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Southern Sea Otter

Southern Sea Otter

Animal's Behavior

The sea otter is diurnal. While sea otters are very mobile on land they will typically spend their whole life in the water, rarely, if ever coming on land, even for birthing or breeding. Otters spend a majority of their day eating, sleeping and grooming. Grooming is a tedious task that often takes up half the otter’s day. They will meticulously pull apart knots and rub their fur to remove loose fur and introduce air. They are also one of the very few animals that will use tools. Often, they will keep a favorite stone or stick in their deep arm pockets and use it to open a stubborn shell or break apart food.

Eating Habits

The sea otter's diet consists almost exclusively of marine invertebrates; including sea urchins, a variety of bivalves such as clams and mussels, abalone, other mollusks, crustaceans, and snails.


There are 3 subspecies of sea otters: southern, northern, and common. The southern otter ranges from south of San Francisco to Santa Barbara County. However the most concentrated population lives along the central California coast. The northern otter lives along the coasts of Alaska, Canada, and Washington, while the common otter inhabits waters around Asia and Russia.

Conservation Efforts

All three species of sea otters were hunted during the Great Hunt or the Fur Trade which lasted from the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s. During this time, a majority of all three otter populations were depleted estimates before the fur trade range from 100,000-160,000 individuals which was dwindled down to an estimated 1,000-2,000 individuals. It wasn’t until 1911 that sea otters came under protection with the signing of the Fur Treat of 1911. At that point, it was widely believed the southern otter had become extinct. It wasn’t until 1938, when a group of 30 or so individuals were found off the coast of Big Sur California that we knew the population had survived. The southern otter remains fully protected today under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Citizens will face hefty fines and possible jail time for harassment of this endangered species. Sea otter habitat is preserved through several protected areas in the United States. In marine protected areas, polluting activities such as dumping of waste and oil drilling are typically prohibited. There are estimated to be more than 1,200 sea otters within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Animal Facts

  • Sea otters have the thickest fur of any animal with approximately 1 million hairs per square inch.
  • Grooming is extremely important because they do not have a layer of blubber like other marine mammals. Instead, they rely on their thick fur to keep them warm in the chilly Pacific waters. Sea otters can be in temperatures at or below freezing.

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Quick Facts

Scientific Name

Enhydra lutris nereis


Animalia, Chordata, Vertebrata, Mammalia, Carnivora, Mustelidae, Lutrinae, Enhydra Enhydra lutris, nereis


Males can weigh up to 70 lbs. and measure approximately 4.5 feet long. Females are slightly smaller weighing up to 60 lbs. and measure about 4 feet in length.


Most young otters will be dark brown or almost black in color. As they age more distinct color patterns will begin to show. Most older otters will have distinct head coloration that can be blonde, silver, or gray in color.


Wild males can live 12-13 years and females can live to 16 years of age. However, both males and females in captivity can live well into their 20s.

Conservation Status


Where to See

Audubon Aquarium

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