protection Status

The southwest Alaska sea otter populace is detailed as intimidated under the Endangered species and designated as depleted under the marine Mammal defense Act.

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Competition with commercial shellfish fisheries, entanglement in advertisement fishing gear, oil spills, condition outbreaks, contaminants, subsistence harvests, killer whale predation.

Did girlfriend Know?

Sea otters feeding on sea urchins, abalone, mussels, clams, crabs, snails and around 40 other marine species. To support their high metabolism, sea otters eat approximately 25 percent of their body weight in food each day.

Range / Distribution

From the Aleutian islands to south-central and southeastern Alaska, british Columbia, and Washington State, where otters have been reintroduced.



Sea otters live in shallow coastal waters turn off the northern Pacific. In the U.S., there room two distinctive sea otter subspecies, the north sea otter and the southern (or California) sea otter. Northern sea otters live in the waters turn off southcoastal Alaska, brother Columbia, and also Washington State.


Sea otters. Photograph taken under U.S. FWS permit #MA-043219. (Ryan Wolt)

Species Status

Abundance and Trends

Historically, an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 sea otters emerged in coastal waters the the north Pacific Ocean. These populations were decimated by virtually two century of advertising hunting. Due to the fact that the 1980s, most northern sea otter populations have continued to recover.

In Alaska there room three stocks of northern sea otters—the Southwest stock, the Southcentral stock, and also the south-east stock. The Southwest stock, which has otters in the Aleutian Archipelago, the Alaska Peninsula, and also Kodiak Island, is listed as intimidated under the Endangered species Act (ESA). The Southcentral and Southeast Alaska stocks proceed to prosper or have actually stabilized and also are not detailed under the ESA. All three stocks in Alaska are defended under the naval Mammal protection Act (MMPA).

The in its entirety sea otter population size the the Southwest Alaska stock has decreased by more than 50% due to the fact that the mid-1980s. The U.S. Fish and also Wildlife company (FWS) noted the Southwest Alaska stock as threatened in 2005 and also designated an important habitat for the populace in 2009. The designation includes waters out to either 100 meters from shore or out to the 20 fathom isobaths in most locations within the population’s range. FWS finalized a recovery plan for the Southwest Alaska sea otter in 2013. The most recent population estimate for this stock is 54,771 otters and also is report in the 2014 stock assessment report. That is thought that the overall populace trend has stabilized in recent years. The variety of Southwest Alaska sea otters in the western and central Aleutian Islands, however, declined by virtually 90 percent between the at an early stage 1990s and 2005. A less precipitous decrease occurred over that same period in the east Aleutian Islands. One theory for the observed populace declines in these areas is rise in predation by killer whales. Other theories suggest that the observed declines are attributable come oceanographic alters or fisheries effects.

In contrast to the Southwest Alaska stock, the number of otters in the Southcentral and also Southeast Alaska stocks have increased or stabilized regardless of thousands that sea otters native the Southcentral Alaska share having died in Prince wilhelm Sound together a an outcome of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Rebuilding the populace took about 25 years. The U.S. Geological inspection (USGS) published a 2014 report concluding that the population had recovered come pre-spill levels. Population levels in the Southcentral stock have now stabilized and also may be increasing; there are approximated to be around 18,000 animals.

The stock of sea otters in southeastern Alaska has actually grown exponentially since their reintroduction in the so late 1960s and also have nearly doubled because the beforehand 2000s. This growth, combination with issue that sea otters are contending with advertising fisheries for sea urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs, and clams has actually led come calls native Alaska State officials and also some fisheries groups for a cull of the population. Back there are now more than 25,000 sea otters in southeast Alaska and also the populace continues to increase, the population likely remains listed below its optimum sustainable population level, something the the USGS and also FWS are currently assessing.

In Washington, sea otters were extirpated through the at an early stage 1900s. Approximately 1970, 59 otters were captured from Amchitka Island in Alaska and released follow me the outer coastline of the Olympic Peninsula. Many of this translocated otters did not survive, but eventually, the population began increasing. The otter population north the La Push appears to be reaching equilibrium density, yet the section of the stock southern of La Push has been raising at roughly 22% every year since 1989. Inspection counts in 2016 report 1,380 otters south of La Push and also 426 otters to the north.


Figure Credit: USFWS, “Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni): Washington Stock” stock Assessment Report, 2018 / Jeffries et al. 2016. Washington sea otter growth patterns native 1989 come 2016.


Before advertisement hunting started in the mid-1700s, an approximated 150,000 to 300,000 sea otters emerged in seaside waters throughout the rim of the north Pacific ocean from north Japan to Baja California, Mexico. In 1911, searching was prohibited under the regards to an international treaty for the security of phibìc Pacific hair seals and also sea otters signed by the joined States, Japan, good Britain (for Canada), and also Russia. By then, just a few thousand otters remained. The survivors to be scattered among little colonies in remote locations of Russia, Alaska, british Columbia, and central California.

Since the ban on commercial searching in 1911, north sea otters have actually recolonized or have actually been reintroduced into much that their historic range. By the time the MMPA was spreading in 1972, remnant groups in Alaska had actually grown considerably and, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, numerous hundred otters were moved from Amchitka Island and Prince wilhelm Sound to shot to reestablish populaces in south east Alaska and the outer shores of Washington and Oregon. Historically, the Washington sea otter stock ranged follow me the Olympic Peninsula coast south come the Columbia River. Currently, these otters are found along the Olympic Peninsula indigenous Pillar suggest in the Strait that Juan de Fuca southern to point Grenville top top the external coast.

Oil pour out Impacts

Based ~ above the minimal range that the southerly sea otter, the threat posed by oil spill triggered this share to be detailed as a threatened varieties under the Endangered types Act in 1977. While northern sea otters walk not obtain a comparable listing, oil pour out are additionally a far-reaching threat to these animals; the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 demonstrated the severe and also long-lasting results of oil spills on this species. Southcentral Alaskan sea otters near Prince wilhelm Sound were severely impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The was approximated that 1,000 come 5,500 sea otters passed away in the first few months ~ the spill. In several of the many heavily impacted areas, sea otter mortality approached 90%. While sea otters in this area have actually rebounded because the spill, long-term spill impacts were observed for decades. Based on sea otter diving behavior, a research by the USGS argued that sea otters in the many heavily affected areas were still gift exposed to oil on a regular basis, causing delayed recovery and continued beforehand mortality with 2009. This populace of otters was finally figured out to be recovered to pre-spill abundance in 2013 (24 years post-spill) and it to be concluded that any continued exposure come lingering oil was no much longer of organic significance.

What the board of directors Is Doing

The board of directors is closely following occupational being excellent by the FWS, USGS, and also others to monitor the status of the Alaska population stocks. We additionally have recommend the State that Alaska on monitoring options easily accessible for responding come the ongoing growth that the south east Alaska population. The Commission the evaluation updated breeze stock evaluate reports for the 3 Alaskan northern sea otter share in 2018.

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Commission Reports and also Publications

For more information on southerly sea otters, watch the Commission’s 2012 annual report.

Commission Letters

Letter date Letter summary
July 24, 2019

Letter come FWS about an incidental take authorization for construction projects in Sitka and Hoonah, Alaska

April 18, 2019

Letter to FWS regarding an incidental take authorization because that oil and gas tasks in chef Inlet

April 17, 2018

Letter come FWS on the draft revised stock assessment report for the north sea otter share in Washington State

June 13, 2016

Letter come FWS regarding an incidental take authorization for oil and gas activities in chef Inlet

September 29, 2014

Letter come FWS about an incidental take it authorization for oil and also gas activities in cook Inlet