Southern Sea Otter Stock Photos, Pictures, Images, Illustrations

Top Left Solid Corner

Southern Sea Otter, Enhydra lutris nereis, Stock Photos, Pictures, Images and Illustrations

Top Right Solid Corner

Southern sea otters are a subspecies of sea otter, Enhydra lutris, found along the California coast. This fact sheet will focus only on information related to this subspecies.

Southern sea otters share the basic physical characteristics of all Enhydra lutris sea otters, but they are the smallest in size when compared to the Northern sea otter, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, and the still larger Asian sea otter, Enhydra lutris lutris. They are described as having narrow skulls with a longer rostrum and smaller teeth than the other two subspecies. Southern sea otters are less likely to haul out on land than northern sea otters (Davis, Lidicker, 1975).

Historically, there were believed to be some 20,000 southern sea otters on the West Coast of North America, from Oregon to the Mexican Baja Peninsula. They were hunted relentlessly from 1784 to 1840, and were believed extinct until a group of around 40 individuals was spotted in 1914. Sea otters were again found near Big Sur in 1938. Thanks to the International Fur Trade Treaty of 1911, these remnant populations of sea otters were not subject to hunting, and over time, their population started to recover. They now inhabit half their former range, from Half Moon Bay near San Francisco to Point Conception near Santa Barbara, CA.

There have been some efforts by conservationists to increase the range of southern sea otters by translocating them to areas in their former range. From 1987 to 1990, 140 otters were moved to San Nicolas Island, not far from Los Angeles. This population was projected to reach 400 or more by the year 2000. The effort proved a failure, as 15 years later, there were only 40 sea otters remaining at San Nicolas.


Southern or California Sea Otter Picture
Picture of southern sea otter or California sea otter, Enhydra lutris nereis, floating on its back, British Columbia, Canada, North Pacific Ocean Image #: 001323

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Suborder: Caniformia/Canoidea

Family: Mustelidae/Mustelids

Subfamily: Lutrinae

Genus: Enhydra

Specific: lutris

Species: Enhydra lutris

Subspecies: Enhydra lutris nereis

>>> More Southern Sea Otter Pictures


Fortunately, southern sea otters have fared better in their current natural range than they did on San Nicolas. In spring of 2007, scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), who researched southern sea otters throughout their range, recorded a count of 3,026 southern sea otters. This represented a 12.4% increase over the previous year's count of 2,692. Scientists were encouraged by the 3-year running average increase, which is used to evaluate the overall trend in sea otter numbers.

Despite the good news about southern sea otter numbers, sea otters have no guarantee of survival as a subspecies. Some researchers projected that the number of southern sea otters should have been 13,000 by now. In 2007, a record number of southern sea otter carcasses washed up on shore, including many breeding age females. Causes of death were various, including shark attacks, bullet wounds and outboard motor injuries, but one quarter of the fatalities were due to illness traced to protozoan parasites, Toxoplasma gondii and Sarcocystis neurona. Both of these parasites are found in cats, so scientists speculate the outbreak originated with the disposal of cat litter into toilets, which were then flushed to the sea. Add to this the deaths caused by toxic algae blooms triggered by fertilizer runoff, deaths from toxic chemicals found in filter feeding shellfish, and deaths from accidental capture in gill nets, and there is genuine cause for concern about the future of the southern sea otter.

The U.S. Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) lists California sea otters as a Threatened species. California state law lists it as a fully protected mammal by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

All sea otters now in existence are descendants of a fairly small number of exploitation era survivors. Consequently, there is little genetic diversity among sea otter populations, making them particularly vulnerable to disease or sudden environmental change.

Alternate names: Southern Sea Otter, California Sea Otter

Links to fact sheets on the other two subspecies of sea otter:

Asian sea otter (Enhydra lutris lutris) of Japan and Russia

Northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) of the Aleutian Islands, mainland Alaska, British Columbia, Canada and the U.S. State of Washington

© Southern sea otter information assembled from on-line sources by Kevin Miller on June 10, 2008 for,9171,1538645,00.html