Sea otters occupy the nearshore coastline where people live, work, and recreate. Where people are regular visitors, sea otters may become habituated to human presence. Sea otters who have lost their natural fear of humans become bolder. In most cases, habituated sea otters will simply allow humans to get closer before fleeing. But on rare occasions, they may demonstrate aggression towards humans and pets or try to interact with humans by climbing on kayaks, paddleboards, or docks. Responsible wildlife viewers must prevent such physical interactions.
Direct interaction with sea otters can be dangerous to pets, people, and the sea otters themselves. Sea otters are carnivores with powerful jaws and sharp teeth that can inflict serious injury. Because they are dangerous animals, sea otters who display aggression towards people or pets are likely to be removed from the wild. Please do your part to prevent these hazardous interactions from occurring. Sea otters don’t know better. You do.
How can I help?
Never allow your dog to chase, harass, or interact with a sea otter. A dog can injure a sea otter, and a sea otter can easily harm or kill a dog. Even interactions perceived as “playful” by dog owners can lead to injury or even death. Direct interactions with sea otters also risk disease transmission between your pet, you, and the sea otter.
If a sea otter approaches your kayak, stay calm and discourage interaction. Do not try to touch, pet, or photograph the sea otter. DO...
Recognize the danger of the situation. Sea otters can inflict a severe bite.
Paddle away from the sea otter.
Make yourself large and noisy. Splash the water with your paddle.
If these deterrents fail and the sea otter attempts to climb on your kayak, take more vigorous measures:
Directly splash the sea otter with water and make noise by hitting the kayak with your paddle. Do not make contact with the sea otter.
If a sea otter approaches a member of your party, assist that person in keeping the sea otter off their kayak by using the same methods described here.
Do not try to touch or pet the sea otter or pause to take pictures.
If all above methods fail and the sea otter still attempts to climb on your kayak:
Use your paddle or another object to block access or push the sea otter off your craft. Federal laws protect sea otters and harassing or injuring a sea otter without a permit is illegal. However, a gentle nudge with your paddle to prevent a sea otter from climbing aboard is acceptable if needed to protect you and the sea otter from harm.
Be a good sea otter steward off the water. Recognize that posting videos and photos of dangerous sea otter encounters may promote similar wildlife interactions in the future. Use care when you share.
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 else can you do to help?
Practice 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!
COVID-19 has been the source of both obstacles and innovations to our plans and strategies for outreach and research, but it is due to the shock of the pandemic on our grants and funding sources that Sea Otter Savvy is facing our most serious threat to survival. Our organization is funded entirely by grants and contributions from people like you who want to see a safer, more peaceful world for sea otters and all wildlife. Many of the funding sources that have supported our work over the last five years are reducing or suspending funding opportunities as they ride out the pandemic. Without additional financial support for 2021, we will not be able to sustain our research, outreach, and conservation efforts at the level our team has worked so hard to establish at a time when sea otters need us most.
You can help by joining our GoFundMe campaign or donating via our Donate link. Even the smallest donation may fund a “Respect the Nap” sticker for a child or a pair of binoculars for one of our community science researchers.