Sea Otter Stranding and Rehabilitation FAQ

What do I do if find a live sea otter in distress?

If you see a marine mammal you believe is in distress, or out of its natural habitat, and want to help, you should call the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, (888) 774-7325 (24/7) or our Alaska Marine Mammals Management Office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in Anchorage, (800) 362-5148 (business hours).


It is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to touch a marine mammal without the proper authorization. This is to protect both you and the animal. Although you have the right intentions you may actually create more harm to the animal by picking it up. For example, walrus and sea otter are susceptible to domestic pet diseases. If you took the animal to your local veterinarian you could be putting that animal at more risk than if you left it alone and waited for professional help. In addition, it can be dangerous for an untrained person to handle one of these animals; sea otters can deliver a nasty bite if not held correctly, and walrus can inflict serious injury with their tusks.

A trained professional from the rehabilitation program of he Alaska SeaLife Center or a biologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will ask you the following questions:

  • What is the geographic location of the animal (give detailed directions, i.e., by a certain boat/road/trail/GPS location)?
  • Where is the animal (beach/water)?
  • How long has it been there?
  • Have you been watching it the whole time?
  • How near were you when you were observing it?
  • How big is it? (size can indicate age of animal)
  • Are there any obvious signs of injury? Open wounds, gunshots? Is it in obvious distress?
  • Are there any other animals in the area?
  • Have any other animals been near it?
  • General description of the situation – are there people and dogs harassing it?
  • Do you have photos of the animal and its location?

After contacting a trained professional, and providing answers to the questions above, the Alaska SeaLife Center or a biologist from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will:

  • direct you not to touch the animal without authorization. You will be provided further instructions upon assessment of the situation.
  • may identify a local veterinarian that is willing to visually examine the animal at its stranding location and report back.
  • formulate a plan of action on a case by case basis from the information provided.

Alaska StrandNet App

This app will allow you to take and submit photos of dead and live stranded marine mammals in Alaska. Together with your photo, the location of the marine mammal is pinpointed with a GPS code generated by your phone. Your submissions are reviewed by wildlife experts and will mobilize an effort to recover the sick or orphaned animal for rehabilitation and the dead animal for testing. You can also directly contact the stranding hotline through this app, thereby facilitating immediate rescue and recovery efforts by trained responders. GET THE IOS APP

Will it be picked up for rehabilitation?

The circumstances where it may generally be appropriate for a sea otter to be removed from the wild by a professional or under authority are as follows:

Dependent pup (less than about 6 months old; half the size of an adult):

  • Alone, not injured, observed continuously for 8 hours and no mother has been seen in the vicinity.
  • Alone, seriously injured or severely emaciated, and no mother has been observed for the last 1-2 hours.

Sub-adult or adult:

  • Not visibly injured and has been observed continuously on land for 24 hours and is acting abnormally. Please be aware that sea otters do haul out on land occasionally to rest.
  • Visibly injured or severely emaciated and observed continuously for several hours.
  • It is a public safety issue; the sea otter is on a crowded beach and there are a lot of people and dogs.

What if I find a dead sea otter?

The carcass of a freshly dead sea otter can provide important information to help biologists understand their natural history and physiology. The Fish and Wildlife Service is especially interested in obtaining sea otters that have recently died because of the current decline of the population in southwest Alaska.

If you find sea otter carcass, please contact our Marine Mammals Management Office at 1-800-362-5148 or the Alaska SeaLife Center at 1-888-774-7325.

If you find a dead sea otter that is less than 24 hours old, please give us a call and we will arrange for shipment back to our laboratory. Do not disturb the carcass until you have contacted the Fish and Wildlife Service or the Alaska SeaLife Center. However, if the tides, predators or people may disturb the carcass, please secure it. Be prepared to give the exact location and take photographs if possible. Your help in collecting this information is invaluable. The carcass is less than 24 hours old if:

  • There are no maggots or fly eggs on or under the body
  • There is no foul odor or dark brown/ black fluid emanating from body
  • The eyes are present and not wrinkled or shrunken
  • The animal was observed alive within the last 12 hours, i.e., not observed dead for more than 12 hours.
  • The body is intact and not scavenged
  • The fur does not pull free in clumps when grasped


Related: Beach Found Marine Mammal Parts FAQ