All About Sea Otters
There are two subspecies of sea otter, and Shedd is home to both!: the northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) and the southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis).
Southern sea otters, like the wild counterparts of Luna, Cooper, Watson, Suri and Willow, are found along rocky coastlines and kelp forests in the northern Pacific Ocean from central to southern California. Northern sea otters, like the newest sea otter arrival at Shedd, are found in similar habitats in the Aleutian Islands, Southern Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington.
Sea otters are a keystone species, meaning they help keep their ecosystems in balance. In particular, sea otters keep kelp forests healthy by eating sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. If sea otters disappeared, their ecosystems would become unbalanced and unhealthy. Urchins would strip the kelp beds that many species depend on for food, shelter and nurseries.
Sea otters are classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is important that we continue to research, rescue and rehabilitate sea otters in need and conserve and protect their ocean habitats so this important species can thrive.
Evolution of Shedd's Sea Otter Program
Historically, Shedd caretakers used their skills and decades of experience to make lifelong homes for rescued sea otters. In this case, Shedd will provide a temporary home for the two newest female sea otters — yet to be named – before they return to a partner institution in Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Surrogacy Program when they are mature enough to be surrogate mothers to future rescued sea otter pups.
Surrogates teach rescued, orphaned pups critical life skills like how to groom their dense fur to survive cold Pacific Ocean temperatures and how to dive to great lengths to forage for food. Without these skills, sea otter pups would not be able to survive in the wild. Shedd is the first inland aquarium to provide this temporary care for non-releasable female otters to support the broader conservation effort for this endangered species.
Meet the Sea Otters
Glistening dark bodies roll in the water. Light-furred faces pop to the surface, then dive back in. For someone without a trainer’s eye, Shedd Aquarium’s sea otters look an awful lot alike. And they seldom stay still long enough for you to try to discern differences. To help you figure out who's who, here are each otter’s key characteristics.