Sea Otters

Sea Otters are one of the most charming and cutest creatures on Earth. They are adorable, clever and not to forget intelligent enough to make efficient use of tools, a quality which is found in rare creatures other than human beings. Unfortunately, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the population of tens of thousands of sea otters declined to mere hundreds, grabbing the attention of conservationists. Today, sea otters fascinate scientists and non-scientists alike, while inspiring groups and governments everywhere to work toward saving them from poachers.

Following are a few other interesting facts you might not know about sea otters:

  1. Sea otters are of the smallest marine mammals that are native to the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean. Approximately 90% of the world’s sea otter population lives in coastal Alaska.
  2. Otters belong to Mustelidae family, which is a family of carnivorous mammals that includes weasels, skunks, badgers and wolverines. In terms of weight, the sea otter is the largest member of the weasel family. In fact, some can reach as much as 100 lbs.
  3. They spend nearly all of their lives in the ocean, and they even give birth and sleep in the water.
  4. These creatures look very much like river otters and have brown or reddish-brown hair as well as long hind legs with webbed paws to aid their swimming. The forelegs of a sea otter are shorter and have retractable claws that are useful for defense and eating.
  5. Sea otters have the densest fur of all animals on Earth – approximately 6 lacs to 1 million hairs per square inch.
  6. Sea otters have no layer of blubber to keep themselves warm. In fact, they rely entirely on air bubbles that are trapped in their dense fur to keep them warm and able to float. Moreover, the sea otter must consume between 25 to 40 % of its body weight daily, just to stay warm.
  7. They frequently clean themselves to preserve their fur’s ability to trap air bubbles, which help them keep warm. Therefore, sea otters come under the list of creatures that are most affected by oil spills. Oil coating can lead to the death of sea otters by hypothermia.
  8. Sea otters are the only marine mammals that can flip over boulders on the sea floor to search for food. Also, they catch fish with its forepaws instead of mouth.
  9. They usually sleep in groups of their own sex in the water - in groups of all males or all females - called rafts. Their rafts can range from as few as 10 otters to as high as 1,000.
  10. They spend most of their time in beds of kelp because that is where they find most of their food.
  11. These are one of the few mammal species on Earth that make use of tools to help it hunt and feed. For example, before sleeping, otters wrap themselves with some of the kelp to keep from drifting away while snooze. Other tools sea otters often seen using are rocks, which they pound against shellfish to break the shell and release the meat for which they are searching.
  12. Sea otters often sleep holding paws, again to keep from drifting apart while they snooze.
  13. They like to feed on more than 100 different prey species. Snails, mussels, sea urchins, and abalone are among the creatures that sea otters usually eat and which they find easily in their beds of kelp. They also like to feast upon starfish, crabs, and other such animals when they have the opportunity.
  14. The fur of an otter’s pup is so dense that it can’t dive underwater until it gets its adult fur. So, the mothers can safely leave their pups floating on the water’s surface while they forage for food.
  15. Sea otters are considered as an essential keystone species in their ecosystems. This is because they have a great influence on their environments. For example, they feed on sea urchins in abundance, which feed on kelp in great abundance. Thus, sea otters help vital kelp forests flourish by controlling the population of sea urchins and preventing overgrazing.
  16. In the 18th and 19th centuries, sea otters were hunted to the edge of extinction by hunters and poachers for their fur pelts. The few remaining sea otters were first protected by the International Fur Seal Treaty in 1911. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s, sea otters have been listed as “threatened”. With the enforcement of these acts, the otters received more protection in the United States.
  17. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified sea otters as “endangered.”

Human beings and killer whales, today, are the sea otter’s most common enemies. Humans pose a major risk to the population largely on account of pollution and oil spills. So, if you also want to preserve this beautiful animal species on Earth, our individual efforts in protecting the environment will go a long way towards saving sea otters.