Return to the Wild - Evolving perspectives on Canadian wildlife
The sea otter can be found in coastal areas throughout the North Pacific.

Did you know?

Floating on its back in groups called “rafts,” the sea otter sometimes holds paws with other sea otters to stay together.

Scientific name: Enhydra lutris
Average weight: 40 kg (male)
30 kg (female)
Average length: 1.5 m (male)
1.4 m (female)
Average lifespan: 10–15 years (male)
15–20 years (female)
A sea otter pauses on some logs.

Our changing understanding

The near loss of the sea otter from Canada and the greater Pacific coast a century ago was, as articles in the magazine clearly state, a simple case of cruelty and greed. Although numbers are never concrete, estimates in the early 1800s put the population of the sea otter from Alaska to California at around 150,000. By 1911, the total population was between 1,000 and 2,000.

What happened? Boasting extremely soft fur, the sea otter was hunted historically, in moderation, by aboriginal peoples. However, during a voyage from Siberia to Alaska in 1741, a German naturalist encouraged Russian hunters to sell the exquisite pelts to the Chinese elite. This almost sparked the beginning of the end for the sea otter, as it was ruthlessly hunted until an eleventh-hour international agreement was signed by countries such as the United States and Russia in 1911.

More recent articles show a population on the rebound, with numbers climbing steadily. However, the sea otter still faces threats such as oil pollution. A small spill from a tanker cruising through its habitat can spell dire consequences for the otter. Beyond the luxurious nature of the otter’s coat, the dense fur protects the small mammal from the icy ocean water. When an otter encounters an oil spill, the oil reduces the fur’s insulative value, and the otter dies from the cold.