Sea Otters

Scientific Name:   Enhydra lutris

When is the best time to view Sea Otters in Monterey Bay and where is the best viewing?

Raft of otters near Elkhorn Slough.

Raft of otters near Elkhorn Slough.

Sea otters live in Monterey Bay year round and can be seen just offshore floating on their backs among the kelp or diving for a meal.  Watch for sea otters all along the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail in Monterey and Pacific Grove. Otters are also commonly found off the shores of Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.  If you are traveling north, take time to stop near Moss Landing where a large population of otters can often be found relaxing together near Moss Landing State Beach and the Elkhorn Slough (approximately 15 miles north of Monterey).

In fact, you may spot otters right now on one of these live web cams:

Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otter Web Cam


About Sea Otters

Otters have the densest fur on earth and spend hours each day taking care of their fur.  Because otters have up to a million hairs per square inch of fur, proper grooming is essential.  Since otters don’t have blubber to keep them warm, their waterproof guard hairs and dense under layer of fur is vital to their survival in waters that average 55 degrees.  

Unfortunately, the sea otter’s luxurious fur nearly resulted in the species’ extermination in the 1700s and 1800s.  Today’s California sea otter population numbers about 2,800 and can be traced to a small group of 50 survivors found off the shores of Big Sur in 1938.

Otters are a keystone species, which means their disappearance would have major impact.  If it weren’t for sea otters, sea urchin populations would decimate the Bay’s kelp forests that provide a protective canopy for numerous species.  Thankfully, due to their high metabolism, sea otters constantly munch on crabs, clams and urchins.  In fact, on a daily basis, otters eat up to 25 percent of their body weight, which would equal 40 pounds of food a day for the average human!

Otters often nap after wrapping themselves in strands of kelp so they don't drift away while they sleep.

Otters often nap after wrapping themselves in strands of kelp so they don't drift away while they sleep.

Sea Otter Fun Facts

  • Sea otters can dive up to 250 feet to capture their food.
  • Sea otters use “tools” such as a rock to open their hard-shelled prey.
  • Sea otters float together in groups of less than 10 to more than 100, called rafts.

Family: Largest member of the Mustelidae (weasel) family and the only one that lives almost entirely in the water.

Habitat: Coastal, shallow water. Habitat consists of two areas - the ocean floor where they find food, and the ocean surface where they eat, groom, rest and play.

Size: An average adult male can be as large as 5 feet in length and weigh up to 70 pounds. Females are a bit smaller (4 feet long and 60 pounds)

Diet: clams, mussels, urchins, crabs, and fish

Lifespan: May live up to 25 years, although average lifespan is 10 to 12 years.

Reproduction: Mating season is throughout the year with a gestation of 6-8 months.  Litters are generally one pup, but sea otters can give birth to twins.