Sea Otter

Sea Otter

Lifestyle

Sea otters spend the majority of their lives in the ocean, sticking close to rocky shorelines. They often float on their backs at the surface of the water. To stay anchored in one place, they will entangle themselves in strands of seaweed. Sea otters are basically solitary, but sometimes they rest together in loose-knit groups called rafts. These rafts often sleep side by side, so that they don’t drift far from each other. Sea otters are most active during the day.

A sea otter’s dense, waterproof coat is its most important protection against the cold. Unlike most other marine mammals, it does not have any insulating blubber. To keep its coat in good shape, it must be meticulously clean. After eating, it washes itself in the ocean using its teeth and paws. It can spend six hours a day on grooming.

Food

Sea otters have high metabolisms, and as a result, are big eaters. They spend about eight hours a day foraging and feeding on their favorite foods: crabs, clams, mussels, snails, sea stars, and urchins. Otters use their whiskers to detect the movements of prey, and their sharp teeth help them crush and grind it. They also use rocks to crack open shellfish, which they hold on their bellies.

Some of My Neighbors

Killer whales, great white sharks, bald eagles, brown bears, northern fur seals, harbor seals, Steller sea lions, sea urchins

Life Cycle

Unlike other otters, sea otters can breed, give birth, and raise their pups entirely at sea. As playful creatures, the males and females will often chase, swim, and dive with each other before mating. This pair bonding lasts about three days. Females normally give birth to a single pup, after a gestation period of about six months. She raises the pup on her own, holding the infant on the furry bed of her chest to nurse it as she swims on her back. The youngster will depend on its mother for about six months, while it learns to swim and hunt. Sea otters live for about 15 years, with females generally living longer.

Population Status & Threats

Until laws were enacted to protect the sea otter from fur traders, it was pursued ruthlessly for its thick pelt. By 1911, only about 1,500 survived worldwide. Today, thanks to various laws and treaties, the population has rebounded to more than 100,000. However, oil pollution remains a major threat. When their fur becomes matted by oil, the otters lose insulation against the cold. Hypothermia and organ damage can result. Since 1998, disease has also taken a major toll, contributing to about 40 percent of the number of sea otter deaths each year.