Close-up of a sea otter floating in wild kelp beds


Saving Sea Otters and Protecting Our Ocean

Sea otters are beloved icons of California's coastline and the Aquarium — endearing animals that inspire and delight.

But sea otters are more than just adorable. They're ecosystem engineers, vital to keeping California's coastal habitats healthy and thriving.

Sea otters once ranged from Mexico to Japan, with around 20,000 in California. We nearly lost them forever after fur traders decimated the wild population in the 1800s. Presumed extinct, a small group of some 50 animals was found off the Big Sur coast in the 1930s. Today, their numbers hover around 3,000, and they inhabit a much smaller geographic range, with most living in the greater Monterey Bay.

Small Animals, Big Impacts

For 35 years, the Aquarium has been the epicenter of sea otter recovery. When we first began caring for stranded wild otters and pups, no one knew how to keep them alive. What we've learned since then is nothing short of remarkable.

Most significant of all, our Sea Otter Program team's work to bond stranded pups with exhibit animals as surrogate otter mothers, then return the young ones successfully to the wild, has been transformational — and something no other institution has ever done.

Sea otter pup being groomed behind the scenes
We rescue ill or injured adults and stranded pups. Caring for them is around-the-clock job that's growing more challenging as strandings increase.
Surrogate otter swimming with pup on her chest
We introduce stranded pups to one of our exhibit sea otters that serve as surrogate mothers behind the scenes.

These surrogate-reared otters survive — and breed — just as well as wild otters. Not only are we saving individual animals, we're releasing them in places they are desperately needed — boosting the wild population and the health of the ecosystem. In nearby Elkhorn Slough, a nationally significant wetland, nearly 60 percent of the otters living there are graduates of our surrogacy program and their offspring. Today both the otter population and the slough itself are thriving.

Because of breakthroughs like this, we now know just how integral sea otters are to the health of our coastline. We also know that to fully recover, sea otters must return to more of California's coastal habitats — more of their historical range.

Aquarium staff member releasing a sea otter into the wild as it leaps out of its holding pen
Once we release young animals back into the wild, our team tracks and monitors them for the rest of their lives. Top left: sea otter flipper tags

Bold Action for Sea Otter Survival

With your help, we can use what we've learned about sea otter care and surrogacy to build their numbers and the health of California's vital coastal habitats, as the two are inextricably linked.

We're ready to take bold action for sea otters, but we need your help to make it possible. To fund this critical work over the next two years, we've set a goal of raising $5 million. It's a big undertaking but it's also a top priority, and we simply can't do it without you.

Make a Gift

Our work to save sea otters is unique, and having a real impact on their survival — and the resiliency of the coastal waters they call home. Your support will allow us to keep pushing the boundaries of sea otter recovery.

Donate today