Asian Sea Otter Pictures, Stock Photos, Images, Illustrations

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Asian Sea Otter, Enhydra lutris lutris, Pictures, Stock Photos, Images and Illustrations

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Asian sea otters are a subspecies of sea otter, Enhydra lutris, found off the coasts of the Kuril Islands, the Kamchatka Peninsula, and the Commander Islands, and which are occasionally spotted off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan. This fact sheet will focus only on information related to this subspecies.

Northern sea otters share the basic physical characteristics of all Enhydra lutris sea otters, but they are larger in size when compared to Northern sea otters, Enhydra lutris kenyoni, which are in turn larger than Southern sea otters, Enhydra lutris nereis. Asian sea otters can grow to 4 feet (1.2 meters), tail included, and weigh up to 80 lbs (36 kg). They have wider skulls and shorter nasal bones compared to other subspecies (Wilson et al, 1991). Asian sea otters are said to be less likely to haul out on land than Northern sea otters (Davis, Lidicker, 1975).

Asian sea otters were once numerous in their range, which extended from Hokkaido, in Japan, to the Commander Islands off Kamchatka. According to Hattori (2005), Asian sea otters had largely disappeared from Hokkaido even prior to the massive exploitation of sea otters that took place in the 1700-1800s, as there are no historical records of Japanese hunting sea otters in Hokkaido around that time. However, evidence has been found of sea otters in older Hokkaido archeological sites (Hattori, 2005).


Asian Sea Otter Picture
Picture of Asian sea otter, Enhydra lutris lutris, also known as a Russian sea otter or common sea otter, hauled out, endangered, along with the Kuril harbor seals, Phoca vitulina stejnegeri, Cape Erimo, Hokkaido, Japan, Pacific Ocean Image #: 065485

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Suborder: Caniformia/Canoidea

Family: Mustelidae/Mustelids

Subfamily: Lutrinae

Genus: Enhydra

Specific: lutris

Species: Enhydra lutris

Subspecies: Enhydra lutris lutris

>>> More Asian Sea Otter Pictures


Historically, Asian sea otters off the Russian coast fell victim to the same massive fur trade exploitation that affected all sea otters in the North Pacific in the 18th and 19th centuries. Apparently, the Chinese upper classes had developed an affinity for otter fur and were willing to pay well for it. Russian trappers were the first to harvest sea otters in large numbers to meet Chinese demand, followed by the British and Americans. Competition for otter pelts was intense, and whenever one area became depleted, hunters moved on to other areas. Native populations along the Alaska, Canada, Washington, and Oregon coasts hunted the animals as well to barter in trade. By the 1840s, sea otters were virtually extinct in all areas of their former range.

International protection of sea otters began in 1911, and sea otters began to increase in number from their tiny remnant populations. Whereas it took just 13 years to wipe out Asian sea otters from the Commander Islands after their discovery in 1741, it has taken over 250 years for sea otters to repopulate the islands there to numbers approaching their former density. There are unconfirmed estimates of 4,000 Asian sea otters in the Commander Islands today. Good estimates on total Asian sea otter population are difficult to come by.

Asian sea otter populations are thought to be increasing in the Kuril Islands, just north of Hokkaido, Japan. Sightings of sea otters occasionally occur off the coast of Hokkaido as well, but these otters are thought to be visitors from the Kurils, and it is unlikely they will establish permanent populations in Hokkaido due to lack of suitable habitat (Hattori, 2005).

The three subspecies of sea otter, Asian, Northern, and Southern, have rebounded throughout their range since the fur trade exploitation era. Of these, the Northern population has recovered the most, but both the Southern and Northern populations have experienced periods of setback. In the late '90s, Southern sea otters experienced a sudden die-off that remains largely unexplained. Shortly thereafter, Northern sea otters began disappearing in massive numbers from the Aleutian Islands, with estimates of 47,000 to 86,000 sea otter deaths, a decrease of 70% or more. The decrease in Northern sea otter numbers in the Aleutians has been attributed to increased predation by orcas (killer whales). Interestingly, Asian sea otters are thought to have been unaffected, and numbers appear to have remained stable and may be nearing capacity.

Existing sea otters are descendants of a small number of exploitation era survivors. As there is little genetic diversity among sea otter populations, they are particularly vulnerable to disease or sudden environmental change.

Alternate names: Asian Sea Otter, Common Sea Otter

Links to fact sheets on the other two subspecies of sea otter:

Northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) of the Aleutian Islands, mainland Alaska, British Columbia, Canada and the U.S. State of Washington

Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) of California and Mexico