Otters are adorable creatures that live both on land and in the water. They are often mistaken for beavers. They hunt for food both in the water such as fish and then also land creatures including small reptiles. The heaviest members of the weasel family, sea otters are also the second smallest marine mammals. Unlike other marine mammals, they do not have a layer of blubber to help them keep warm. Instead, at 850,000 to one million hairs per square inch, they have the thickest fur of any mammal. Their fur actually consists of two layers, an undercoat and longer guard hairs. This system traps a layer of air next to their skin so their skin does not get wet.
Sea otters are considered a keystone species, meaning they have a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance. They have been around for at least 5 million years based on early fossil remains. Sea otters once ranged from Mexico to Alaska and even to Japan.. Sea otters inhabit shallow coastal areas and prefer places with kelp. The kelp acts as an anchor that the sea otters use to wrap themselves in when they are resting.
Click on any image below for a slideshow of Otter pictures
Otters are the only serious swimmers in the weasel family. They spend most of their lives in the water, and they are made for it! Their sleek, streamlined bodies are perfect for diving and swimming. Otters also have long, slightly flattened tails that move sideways to propel them through the water while their back feet act like rudders to steer. Almost all otters have webbed feet, some more webbed than others, and they can close off their ears and nose as they swim underwater.
Females give birth to one pup and usually have their first pup at the age of four or five. Their pregnancies last four to five months. Pups can be born any time of year, Sea otters are social animals, with females and pups spending time together in one group and males in another. Pups stay with their mothers for the first eight months of their life. The pups’ fur traps so much air that they actually cannot dive under water. Pups begin to learn to swim at around four weeks of age. Females perform all tasks of feeding and raising offspring, and have occasionally been observed caring for orphaned pups.Much has been written about the level of devotion of sea otter mothers for their pups – a mother gives her infant almost constant attention, cradling it on her chest away from the cold water and attentively grooming its fur. When foraging, she leaves her pup floating on the water, sometimes wrapped in kelp to keep it from floating away; if the pup is not sleeping, it cries loudly until she returns. Mothers have been known to carry their pups for days after the pups’ deaths.
Sea otters are one of the few animals to use tools. They eat animals with shells, like clams and abalone, and use a stone to break open the shells. For small creatures though they do eat quite a bit. They can consume up to 20% of their body weight daily. They can dive as deep as 330 feet when foraging for food
Over 1,000,000 sea otters were killed during the Maritime Fur Trade. Due to extensive hunting for their fur between 1741 and 1911, they were classified as an endangered species. During the 20th century, sea otters got busy, rebounding BIG TIME and restoring a large portion of the population in what is considered one of the greatest successes in marine conservation. Currently, the most significant threat to sea otters are oil spills.