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Otter-like animals have inhabited the earth for the last 30 million years and over the years have undergone subtle changes to the carnivore bodies to exploit the rich aquatic environment.

Otters are members of the Mustelid family which includes badgers, polecats, martens, weasels, stoats and mink.

You can find out more about each of the 13 species below and check out their current conservation status in the Red Data List.

You can find out more about each species in “Otters of the World” available at the Ottershop.

World of Otters

Our interactive map of otter locations around the world.

Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)

SIZE 1.4 metres
DIET Abalone, clams, crabs starfish and 40 other marine animals
GESTATION Ranges from 4-12 months (they have various degrees of delayed implantation)
OFFSPRING single cub
DISTRIBUTION: Russia: 18,000 – 20,000
Alaska: 100,000 – 150,000
Southern USA: 2,400
British Columbia, Canada: 8,000
CITES Appendix I/II – Appendix II in all but Southern Sea Otter
THE THREAT TO THE SPECIES: Oil pollution, fishing nets, illegal hunting by the beginning of the last centaury the Sea Otter was nearly extinct.

Sea Otter
Photo: Sergey Zagrebelney

At one time sea otters were found in an arc around the northern Pacific from Japan and the Russian Kamchatka peninsula, across the Aleutian Islands and down to the Baja California peninsula and Mexico.

The population was once as large as 150,000–300,000 animals but, predictably enough, the sheer beauty and warmth of their fur made them a highly prized commodity and thousands were slaughtered.

Sea otters are now found up the Kamchatka peninsula (Russia) across the Aleutian Islands to Alaska, down through Canada and Washington state and with a separate southern population occurs off California. They are sometimes found in northern Hokkaido (Japan) having strayed down from the nearby Russian Kuril islands.

The Sea Otter is the only true marine otter of all the otter and they can dive up to 40metres to catch their prey.  When they reach the surface they lie of their backs using their tummy as a table and a tool such as a stone to help open their prey.  They eat a variety of food including clams, crabs, abalone, and starfish and up to 40 other marine animals. 

They live in relatively cold waters of 30-50F but do not even have blubber to keep them warm.  Like all otters they rely on their fur, which is the thickest of all otters with 150,000 hairs per square cm.

Observations have shown that the foraging of the Sea Otter is greatest in early morning and late evening; they usually stay close to the shore in large groups but can be found up to 5km out at sea.  They rest in the kelp beds in “rafts” and wrap the seaweed around them to stop them floating away.

Breeding takes place throughout the year but peaks in birth in May and June have been recognised.

Distribution of the Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)

Data based on Otters of the World (IOSF 2017) which is available at the Otter shop.