Sea otter research

Throughout our history, we have focused on sea otter research, husbandry and education. Among our achievements are to be the first aquarium in the world to have a sea otter conceived and born in captivity—and subsequently live to adulthood. In 2011, those efforts were consolidated to form an official Sea Otter Conservation program, which includes the following components:

  • Research: Our research efforts increase our knowledge of the animals we exhibit, contribute to conservation efforts in the wild, support public interest in research, and encourage young people to learn. We are involved in four sea otter research studies focused on an annual census, population genetics, ecology and endocrinology.
  • Husbandry: Under the direction of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), of which the Seattle Aquarium is an accredited member, we created and maintain the North American Sea Otter Studbook, which documents the pedigree and entire demographic history of each sea otter exhibited in zoos and aquariums throughout North America.
  • Education: In addition to our Sea Otter Awareness Weekends, held each year in September, sea otter-themed lesson plans are used for camps held at the Seattle Aquarium, as well as lessons that take place within our facility and in school classrooms.
  • Retail: In support of our efforts, our gift store offers many sea otter conservation-themed products.
Research highlights:

Washington State’s annual sea otter census
Aquarium staff participate in Washington’s annual sea otter survey.

Sea otter conservation endocrinology
Aquarium biologists are gathering data on captive sea otter reproduction by monitoring reproductive hormone levels in sea otters, all of which were implanted with the same form of contraception, from the Seattle Aquarium, Oregon Zoo and Georgia Aquarium. Our goals are to understand the complex physiology of sea otter reproduction and document the long-term effects of the contraceptive implant so captive sea otter populations can be managed effectively.

Three-year study of sea otters and their changing environment
We are currently partnering with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) on observations of wild sea otter activity as part of the three-year study entitled “Coastal ecosystem responses to influences from land and sea.”