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.

Canadian Geographic articles

Sea otters return to Canada’s West Coast

By Bettie Hiscocks
June/July 1977

Otters had long been gone from the West Coast in the early 20th century. Writer Bettie Hiscocks recounts their return and protection in the Pacific Ocean.

Sea otters, the smallest marine mammal in any ocean, are dog-sized and a little bit like beavers, except for the fact that they have a furry tail. Otters live in a group, spending their entire lives out at sea, except to give birth. Otter mothers are incredibly devoted and care for their offspring for a year and a half, until the time when the young can fend for themselves (though they never stray far from where they were born). Feeding mostly on clams and sea urchins, they otters dive deep to gather their food, stuffing it under their left arm until they reach the surface of the ocean.

Coveted for their thick soft fur, the otters were hunted voraciously when the Europeans reached North America. Between 1796 and 1803, it is estimated that British and American ships hunted and killed about 10,000 to 15,000 otters per year. Realizing that the otter numbers were dropping to dangerously low levels, the 1911 International Convention declared the sea otter a protected species.

At the time this article was written, sea otters were just beginning to make their recovery along the coast of Alaska and British Columbia. In 1969, British Columbia’s Fish & Wildlife branch reintroduced 29 otters from the Alaskan coast to the Bunsby Islands, with more introductions in 1970 and 1972. The small otter population began to grow, and today there is a healthy group of otters along the coast of British Columbia.

Sea otters return

By Bruce Obee
December 1984/January 1985

Written at the tail end of 1984, this article discusses the arduous road that conservationists went down to re-establish the sea otter to Canada’s West Coast.

The first 29 otters were imported from Amchitka Island, a protected area in Alaska. Ironically, the reason that American authorities offered the otters to British Columbia was because they were planning to test a nuclear bomb in the same area where the Alaskan otters lived.

Though the first introductions of the otter to the Bunsby Islands often resulted in death after release (the animals were too stressed by the journey), the third introduction proved largely successful. Instead of capturing them and moving the otters immediately, researchers put them in large at-sea pens to observe and select the healthiest individuals. The animals were then transported to Vancouver Island, where they spent a few days adjusting to Canadian waters under the care of biologists before being released.

To discover the number of sea otters living in and around Bunsby Island, researchers and volunteers descended on the northwestern portion of Vancouver Island in 1984. Using both boats and airplanes, they counted 345 otters total, and the establishment of a new colony along Bajo Reef. The otters had grown by 12 percent each year since the last introduction — at exactly the right rate.

If you do not have Acrobat Reader®, please click on the following link Adobe Reader to download it from the Adobe® Web site.