The Aquarium of the Pacific partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Sea Otter Research and Conservation program (SORAC) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to help conserve and protect threatened southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis).
Biologists believe that at one time between 16,000 and 20,000 sea otters could be found along the coast between Baja California and the Pacific Northwest. By the early part of the twentieth century, however, they had been driven close to extinction due to intensive hunting for their fur. In 1911 sea otters gained protection under international treaties. At that time only about fifty animals remained along the California coast near Big Sur. In 1977 they were listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Since then, annual census surveys conducted by U.S. Geological Survey scientists have indicated that the population has slowly expanded to just over 2,900 animals. Currently their range extends from San Mateo County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south, with a small population of otters at San Nicholas Island.
Sea Otter Care
In addition to providing homes for non-releasable sea otters, when requested by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Aquarium has helped sea otter conservation efforts by loaning and exchanging animals with other facilities for research and conservation programs. It has also provided trained staff to care for animals at other facilities when needed.