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Sea Otter Savvy

Sea Otter Science And Community Outreach

Be Sea Otter Savvy!

There are simple guidelines you can follow to avoid disturbing sea otters.
You can help by practicing these yourself, and encouraging others to do the same!
Visit our "What is Disturbance?" page to learn more about this human impact to sea otters.

Read or print pdfGuidelines for responsible sea otter viewing


Guidelines for other user types


Wildlife and boaters can safely enjoy our coastal waters:

  • Enter and exit harbors with no wake
  • Assign spotters when possible to watch for wildlife ahead
  • Steer clear of kelp beds

Allow plenty of space to avoid collisions or disturbance. The larger the boat, the more space you should keep between you and resting sea otters. The "5 length rule" applies, but scale it up for your boat's dimensions. Sail and power boats of any size should never approach closer than 100 feet, equivalent to 2.5 school buses! Discover more tips for boaters.

Sea Otters on Shore

Sea otters sometimes rest on beaches, rocks, or docks, a normal behavior known as "hauling out". Sea otters are awkward on land and should be given extra space to avoid disturbance or aggressive encounters. Read more on our page, Sea Otters on the Shore.

Sea Otter Photography

Sea otters are a popular subject for photography and video. In the age of the internet, images depicting sea otters in both wild and captive settings are easy to find, like, and share. At Sea Otter Savvy we encourage enjoyment of the many wonderful images of sea otters, but with a healthy dose of awareness and scrutiny. Photographers seeking the perfect sea otter image should maintain a respectful distance. Any approach or behavior that provokes a response by the sea otter constitutes disturbance and/or harassment. No photo is worth the cost of disturbance to the sea otter. Learn more about sea otter images and see work by some of our favorite photographers on our Photography page.


What to Do About Curious Sea Otters

Some sea otters have become so used to people they may try to interact with humans by climbing on kayaks. In scenarios like this, both humans and sea otters are at risk, and every attempt should be made to prevent physical interaction. Sea otters are wild animals with a powerful bite. Much like the bears of National Parks, a sea otter that habitualy approaches people may be removed from the wild population. You can help sea otters stay wild by following these guidelines:

  • Recognize that incidents involving direct contact between a sea otter and you or your pet are very dangerous.

  • If a sea otter approaches you while you are paddling a small craft or on shore, remain calm.

  • Attempt to paddle away to avoid direct contact.

  • If a sea otter attempts to climb on your watercraft, use your paddle or other object to block access and/or push the sea otter off of your craft. While sea otters are protected by federal laws, a gentle nudge with your paddle to a sea otter attempting to climb aboard  is preferable as a means to protect human and sea otter from harm

  • If a member of your party is being approached by a habituated sea otter, render assistance in keeping the sea otter off their kayak.

  • Do not attempt to touch or pet the sea otter or pause to take pictures.

  • Do not allow your dog to chase, harass, or interact with a sea otter. A sea otter is capable of harming and even killing your pet.

  • Be a good sea otter steward off the water: Recognize videos and photos of habituated behavior may promote similar inappropriate and dangerous interactions with wildlife in the future. Use care when you share!

  • Your behavior can help sea otters stay wild!

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What else can you do to help?

guidelines girlPractice behavior that is respectful to sea otters and all wildlife when sharing their space.

  • Encourage others to think about the needs and well‐being of sea otters when they are viewing them—be a sea otter savvy role model!
  • Be proficient at handling and maneuvering your watercraft, whatever type or size of craft you are operating. First time kayaking? Ask for instruction on how to turn and stop skillfully before launching. It's safer for you and it's safer for wildlife!

Most people love sea otters and do not wish them harm. Armed with a little information, we can share the coastal environment respectfully and peacefully with sea otters! Understanding the needs of sea otters is most important to help prevent disturbance, but don't forget, sea otters are protected from harassment by two federal laws, state law and a number of local laws and regulations. Harassment and disturbance of them, even when unintentional, violates the law!

Learn about the laws and regulations protecting sea otters.