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A white wave shape.

Sea otter

Meet our northern sea otters: Mishka and Sekiu

Say hello to our otters: females Mishka and Sekiu. Learn a bit about them below, and keep scrolling to discover fascinating facts about these charming, outgoing, intelligent mammals. Then come see the dynamic duo in action on your next visit to the Aquarium!

At the Aquarium

What’s with all the grooming?

Sea otters spend about 15 percent of each day grooming their fur by rolling and whirling in the water to remove food scraps and debris. They rub, comb and rake their fur with their forepaws and lick the fur with their coarse tongues. And they’re not just doing it to look good! The fur insulates their bodies by trapping tiny air bubbles and keeping a layer of air between the outer surface and their skin. If the fur becomes dirty, it loses its insulating qualities, allowing water to penetrate all the way to the skin. Brrrr!

Who’s who? Sea otters vs river otters

Many people don’t know the difference between sea otters and river otters—but, with a little info, you’ll be able to tell right away.

First, sea otters are two to three times the size of river otters—and, when at the water’s surface, they float on their backs, while river otters swim belly down like most animals. Next, the tail of a sea otter is short and flattened; a river otter’s tail is long and pointed. Also, sea otters spend most of their lives in the water, where they breed, give birth, hunt for food and sleep. River otters live most of their lives on solid ground and use the water to travel and find food.

There are other important differences between these two species as well: northern sea otters are found only in coastal areas, with a range that extends north from the Washington coast, along the outer edge of Vancouver Island, and up to Alaska. They are occasionally seen along the Straits of Juan de Fuca near Port Angeles, but they rarely venture further inland than that. River otters in our region, on the other hand, are found all over Washington state and are commonly seen in pond and stream habitats as well as Puget Sound. Also, female sea otters give birth to just one pup at a time—river otters may give birth to several cubs in a litter.

Why doesn’t the Seattle Aquarium have a sea otter breeding program anymore?

The Seattle Aquarium, as well as other facilities accredited with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), plays a vital role in sea otter conservation and collaborates with other facilities for the best management of the species. About a decade ago, the decision was made across all AZA-accredited U.S. zoos and aquariums to stop breeding sea otters—so more space would be available for sea otters that were rescued, rehabilitated and subsequently deemed non-releasable back to the wild (like our own Mishka).

Quick facts

River otters and sea otters are both relatives of the weasel!

Sea otter diets consist of urchins, crabs, clams, shrimp, fish and invertebrates.

Adult sea otters are typically between 50 to 100 pounds.

Explore More Mammals

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Two sea otters at the Seattle Aquarium floating on the water in their habitat, holding onto each other demonstrating a rafting behavior.

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An adult sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium looking upwards with its front paws resting on its front.

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Sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium laying on its back, raising its head and front paws.

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