Species Enhydra lutris
Sea Otter Basics
The sea otter is a well-known marine animal with a lengthy history of living along North America’s west coast. Sea otters are endangered, having been hunted close to extinction by the fur trade. They now only persist in a small fraction of their original habitat. The smallest marine animal is the sea otter.
Sea Otter Description
Sea otters are a medium-sized Mustelidae family member. Sea otters are the biggest members of the weasel family, weighing between 31 and 100 pounds (14–45 kg). Adults have brown fur with lighter tan and yellow highlights on their heads. Long whiskers, short ear flaps, and two little black eyes distinguish them.
It has a variety of adaptations that help it flourish in its aquatic habitat, such as nostrils that may shut while diving for food and large, wide, webbed hind feet that aid in its swimming ability. Their front paws are small and clawed, with pads on their palms to help them grasp their typically slippery prey. Finally, otters have sharp, pointed front teeth for slicing and ripping their food, as well as multiple flat, spherical molars for crushing and grinding their food, much like humans and many other animals.
Distribution and Range
Sea otters were formerly common all along North America’s west coast, from Alaska to Mexico. Their ancient range runs all the way across the North Pacific to Russia and Japan. Sea otters, on the other hand, were pushed to extinction by the fur trade, which started in the 1740s, and now only persist in sections of their original habitat, despite a resurgence.
The majority of sea otters in this area dwell in coastal waters, while some do live offshore. In general, they favour sites that are quite protected and give some protection from the strongest ocean breezes. Otters can walk on land if necessary, but they may spend their whole lives in the water, making them the only weasel species capable of doing so.
Diet and Predators
Carnivorous predators, sea urchins consume other sea urchins. They are diurnal, preferring to forage in the early morning and late afternoon while sleeping throughout most of the night and day. They will also be active in the dark, foraging often around midnight.
To feed on the bottom, sea otters may dive to depths of up to 30 metres (100 feet). Sea otters consume a variety of invertebrates, including mollusks, crabs, and even fish, in addition to sea urchins, which they eat in such large quantities that their teeth become purple.
Sea otters are preyed upon by a variety of predatory marine animals, including orcas and sea lions. If given the chance, eagles may also take baby otters. Predators like bears and coyotes may pose a hazard to puppies when on land. Despite their overlap in sections of their range, there is no evidence that great white sharks consume otters.
Male sea otters have several mates, making them polygynous species. Females are capable of delaying implantation, waiting for their mate’s sperm to fertilise their eggs, perhaps in reaction to seasons and the availability of different partners.
Females normally give birth to just one pup after copulation and a six-month gestation period. This puppy will stick close to its mother, often riding on her back for a smooth trip. The pup will start diving for food on its own at the age of two months. Females, on the other hand, will feed and care for their puppies for roughly 6 months until weaning them completely. At the age of 3-5 years, sea otters reach sexual maturity, with males growing 1-2 years later than females.
Sea otter populations on the west coast of North America previously topped 300,000 individuals. However, from 1741 to 1911, they were heavily hunted, mostly for their pelts, and their populations were reduced to as low as 1,000 individuals in just a tenth of their ancient habitat.
They were eventually protected, and their numbers have now returned as a result of this protection and attempts to reintroduce them to areas where they had previously been hunted to extinction. Sea otters may now be found in around two-thirds of their historic range, despite the fact that they are still an endangered species.
Fun Facts about Sea Otter!
Sea otters are popular nowadays because of their attractive looks and fascinating personalities. However, it wasn’t until they were almost extinct that humanity realised their importance as a keystone species rather than a fur pelt.
What Thick Fur You Have
Sea otters have very thick fur, with up to 150,000 hair follicles per square centimetre. When colonists and immigrants came to North America, this is essentially what made their pelts so desirable in the fur trade. They are the only marine mammals that remain warm using fur rather than a fat layer for insulation. This is due to their thick coat, which comprises of long, waterproof guard hairs over their shorter underfur that keeps water totally away from their skin. Their fur is, in fact, the densest in the animal world.
Sea urchins have conquered the kelp on which they feed in regions where otters are absent, destroying hectares of kelp forests that offer vital habitat for many species, including a nursery for economically fished species. When sea otters are present, as they were before humans drove them to extinction, they graze on sea urchins, keeping their numbers under control. Sea otters are a keystone species in this area because they help to sustain the kelp forests.
Sea otters are skilled foragers and hunters with a high level of intelligence. They’ll utilise pebbles as tools to extricate mollusks from the substrate, which their strong feet can grip securely. This places the sea otter in a select category of animals that utilise tools, such as chimps.