Endangered Species in Santa Cruz County - Mammals


Southern Sea Otter

Southern Sea Otter

Scientific Name: Enhydra lutris nereis

Status: T

Southern sea otters are marine mammals with a thick pelt, mainly reddish, dark brown, or black; the head whitish in older individuals, especially males. Sea otters have tails which are thick and relatively long, often representing about 1/4 of the animal's body length. Hind feet flattened and webbed with vestigial leathery foot pads. The front feet relatively small and round. Compared to other sea otters, this species has a shorter and narrower skull, longer nose and smaller teeth.

Diet consists primarily of invertebrates such as sea urchins, crabs, and a variety of mollusks; fish are important food items where there is high population density. Sea otters forage at depths less than 20 m. They often use rocks or other hard objects as tools to break the exoskeletons of invertebrate prey.

Habitat: Temperate coastal waters within 2 km of shore, especially shallows with kelp beds and abundant shellfish. In rough weather, sea otters take refuge among kelp, or in coves and inlets; they rarely come ashore.

Threats: commercial fisheries and tanker traffic that could result in oil spills; also, infectious diseases and parasites have been identified as causing significant mortality.

To Learn More:

  • Animal Diversity Web
    Brief, easy-to-read summaries (most with photos) describing habitat,, geographic range, behavior, food and current conservation status.
  • CalPhotos - University of CA, Berkeley
    Browseable photographs of the species.
  • NatureServe Explorer
    Enter species name in the search box to access a detailed description of habitat, behavior, food, current conservation status, ecological and distribution data, with citations to relevant management reports.
  • Santa Cruz Public Libraries - Local Resources
    Search SCPLs online catalog for local documents and other information about this species.
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
    Documents describing protection for this species under the Endangered Species Act. General information about the species as well as plans to protect it and assist in its recovery.

Last updated by teeterj on Oct. 24, 2011

Browse by Status Key

E — Endangered

T — Threatened

CH — Critical Habitat

PE — Taxa proposed for listing as endangered

PT — Taxa proposed for listing as threatened

PCH — Critical habitat which has been proposed

C — Candidate species for which the Fish and Wildlife Service has on file sufficient information on the biological vulnerability and threats to support proposals to list as endangered or threatened