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Southern Sea Otter Enhydra lutris nereis


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Family: Mustelidae, Weasels view all from this family

Description Body dark brown; head and back of neck yellowish or grayish. Old males may have white heads. Fairly short tail, thick at base, gradually tapering. Feet webbed; hindfeet flipper-like. Male somewhat larger than female. Southern subspecies smaller than more northerly populations. Averages: L 48" (117 cm); T 12" (29 cm); Wt 4565 lb (20-30 kg).

Endangered Status The Southern Sea Otter, a subspecies of the Sea Otter, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in California. Once an abundant species, the Sea Otter was so heavily hunted for its highly prized pelt that by 1911, when an international treaty forbade its massacre, it had nearly become extinct. The animal was not seen in California for many years, but in the spring of 1938, a herd appeared in the sea south of Carmel. Today the population there is perhaps 2,000. The southeast Alaska-Washington population seems to be holding steady, with the exception of the region where the Exxon Valdez oil spill wiped out thousands. The very large herds found in the Aleutian Islands have lost some 70 percent of their numbers in recent years, and the Aleutian population is now a candidate species for endangered status. Killer Whales are believed to be the culprits, feeding on Sea Otters because their traditional prey species, the Northern Sea Lion, has become rarer. There is an ongoing controversy between fishermen and conservationists concerning the Southern Sea Otter. Conservationists want to keep the animal on the Endangered Species List to ensure its protection, but fishermen want to control the Sea Otter in order to limit damage to abalone populations.

Habitat Kelp beds and rocky shallows within a mile (1.5 km) of shore, especially places with abundant shellfish.

Range Pacific Ocean off California, mainly Monterey Bay to Big Sur.