Sea otters are marine mammals and very rarely come ashore. They are most often seen floating on their backs amid kelp beds. Adult males weigh 70 to 90 pounds and are about four-and-a-half feet long; females are about one-third smaller.
Sea otters eat almost any fish or shellfish they can catch and consume the equivalent of about 20 percent of their body weight every day. They can dive as deep as 250 feet when foraging. When eating shellfish they often bring a rock to the surface, roll on their backs and use the rock to crack open the shells. Because they have voracious appetites, they have a profound effect on their environment, significantly reducing the numbers of prey animals, such as sea urchins, in an area.
Russian, American and British fur traders virtually wiped out the entire population of sea otters in Alaska and along the Pacific Coast. By 1850 just a few isolated groups remained, mostly in the Aleutian Islands. In the late 1960s, 412 sea otters from the Aleutians were relocated to Southeast Alaska. The transplanted otters thrived and spread along the Outer Coast of Southeast, and in the early 1990s otters began moving into inside waters such as Icy Straits. Sea otters began colonizing Glacier Bay in the mid-1990s, and numbers have increased dramatically since that time.
Because Glacier Bay was well-studied in the years before otters re-colonized the area, biologists are now watching and documenting the ecological changes as the otters' population increases.
What to Look for: Sea otters are usually seen swimming or floating on their backs while grooming, resting or eating. They will also swim on their stomachs and roll at the surface. Sea otters tend to be lighter in color than the smaller land otters. Look for the round head with triangular nose, significantly smaller than seals. They are more abundant near the Outer Coast and rare in Stephens Passage, Lynn Canal and Chatham Strait. The Sitka area, Icy Strait and Cross Sound are good places to find sea otters.