Sea Otter
Enhydra lutris

Sea Otters are playful animals that spend almost all their time in the sea. They eat, sleep, and even have their babies in the water. In the daytime sea otters float on their backs eating Abalone, their favorite food. To open the Abalone shell they place a small rock on their chest and smash the shell against it. Sea otters are one of the few mammals, beside humans, that use tools. They will use strands of kelp to tie themselves into the kelp beds for a secure night's sleep. They love to frolic with other otters and seals. Unlike seals and walrus, sea otters have no blubber to keep them warm in the cold arctic waters. Air trapped in their fur keeps them warm and bouyant. Oil spills can damage this fine fur and cause the otter to get very cold and die. That is why volunteers cleaned the sea otters so carefully after the oil spills in Alaska.

Sea otters also faced great dangers from hunters who wanted their valuable coats. They were hunted so heavily in the 18-19th Centuries that they had to be placed on the U.S. government endangered species list. Now the populations have come back to a large extent, but conservationists would like to continue to protect them. Fishermen would like them off the endangered species list in order to protect the abalone harvest.


Sea Otter
Photo © PhotoDisc

19th Century Naturalist
Edward Nelson Recounts:

"In 1760-65 when Bering and his party first explored the Aleutian Islands, they found the Sea Otters so numerous that the Aleuts wore long mantles made of their skins and a scrap of old iron was enough to secure the finest skin.  In 1840 Veniaminov wrote that the Sea Otters in these islands are distinguished above everything on account of their great value and small numbers.  There was a time when they were killed in thousands, now only by hundreds.  There are plenty of places where before there were great numbers of Sea Otters; now not one is to be seen or found.  The reason for this is most evident; every year hunted without rest they have fled to places unknown and without danger.

When the Fur Seal Islands were discovered the sea otters there were very numerous, and two sailors killed five thousand there the first year.  The next year less than one thousand were killed, and from the end of the next six years to the present day the Sea Otter has been unknown there. From the Aleutian Islands south to Oregon the Russians found these otters so numerous that they were obtained in numbers running from two to three thousand kills per year. This great increase in the catch during the later years is entirely due to the greater vigor with which the animal has been hunted, and the introduction of fine long-range rifles.  Good rifles now replace to a great extent, the primitive spears.

There is little doubt that in the course of a few years under the present regulations and mode of hunting, this valuable animal will be exterminated, and in place of affording the Aleuts a livelihood will leave them dependent upon the Government."

Home | Arctic Wildlife | Birds | Mammals | Sea Mammals | Glossary