The Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)

The southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris) is native to the coast of California, and live in the shallow waters along the central coastline. Sea otters are in the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, badgers, ferrets, mink, and wolverines. Unlike other aquatic mammals like seals and whales, sea otters do not have blubber – instead, they're insulated by the densest fur in the animal kingdom. One square inch of their skin is covered in 250,000 to a million hairs.

Sea otters are considered a keystone species for their role in maintaining balance in coastal kelp forests and seagrass beds by eating overgrazers like crabs and urchins. In overabundance sea urchins can clear-cut a kelp forest and suppress future growth. Because otters feed on shelled creatures like abalones and clams, they use tools to break through the shells.

Sea otters are social animals and often spend time in groups. Often, males will be in one group, and females and babies, or pups, in another. They spend almost the entirety of their lives in the ocean. They'll even take rests in the ocean, wrapping themselves in kelp to keep from drifting.

Enhydra lutris is endangered with populations declining. The greatest threat to sea otters is oil spills. The oil destroys their fur's ability to insulate, meaning that when oiled they're highly susceptible to hypothermia. It can also be ingested during grooming, leading to gastrointestinal disorders, among other things. Commercial fishing also poses serious threats to sea otter populations, and the impacts of warming seas from climate change pose further threats to this species' survival. They are a conservation priority throughout their range.

✔️ The Marine Mammal Center. “Sea Otters .”, ✔️ “Southern Sea Otter (Enhydra Lutris Nereis) | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.”, ✔️ Larson, Shawn, et al. “IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: Enhydra Lutris.” IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Name, 21 Jan. 2020,