Sea otters are often known for being cute and cuddly. There are billions of videos on YouTube and TikTok showing river otters and sea otters doing adorable things.
You can often visit sea otters, river otters, and other species of otters in zoos or aquariums. They’ll come up to the glass and often love playing with people passing by. There is so much more you can learn about these small mammals.
Sea Otter Facts
Otters are part of the weasel or the mustelid family. There are 13 different species of otter. The United States is home to two species, the sea otter and the North American river otter. Other species are the giant otter, the smooth-coated otter, and the southern sea otter, which are considered to be the smallest marine mammals.
A group of otters is called a family, lodge, or romp. But, if you see a group of resting otters, they are called a raft. This is because they use seaweed to hold themselves together and not to float away from one another.
Adult sea otters are great swimmers. However, they often would rather float on their backs and just use their hind feet to guide them. If they have to swim quickly, they swim up and down using their entire body.
Sea Otter Bodies
The sea otter’s body is made for the water. It has special adaptations and body parts that allow it to live it’s whole life in the water.
The size of adult sea otters depends on the type of sea otter it is. An Alaskan sea otter often weighs more than a California sea otter. But the body weight can range from 35 to 85 pounds depending on the gender and the type.
Sea otter’s fur is thick. They actually have two layers of incredibly thick fur and more than a million hair strains per square inch. It is also the longer fur of all the otters. The outer guard hairs lay flat against the body, and the under the guard hairs are another layer of fur that stays completely dry.
All otters have short legs. This makes it easier for them to swim, walk, groom, and deal with prey. All otters have pads on their feet except for the sea otter, which doesn’t have pads on their hind legs. They also have front paws with retractable claws and use them for finding food, eating, and grooming. They only use their hind feet for swimming.
The sea otter actually has a short tail, not a long tail. They even can use it to direct and turn themselves when floating on their back.
One very important part of the sea otter’s body is the whiskers. These long whiskers sense vibrations in the water. Since otters have sensitive whiskers, they are able to sense prey easier.
Sea Otter Habitat
Although the word “sea” is in their name, sea otters actually do not live in the middle of the ocean or sea. They are normally found only about half a mile away from the shore. This is because they often hunt in tide pools, thick kelp forests, rocky shores, and barrier reefs. Sea otters often live in very cold water. Their thick fur and high metabolism help keep them warm.
Sea Otter Predators and Prey
Sea otters are keystone predators. This means the ecosystem would greatly change if they were to go extinct or die out. They have some animals that hunt them, such as killer whales, bald eagles, wolves, brown bears, and whale sharks. There have been reports that even sea lions will eat sea otters. One species that surprisingly leaves sea otters alone are great white shark.
Sea otters have special teeth that are used for crushing hard-shelled invertebrates or animals without backbones, such as clams, sea urchins, and crabs. They also have been known to eat mussels, octopuses, and fish.
A cool fact about sea otters is that they use tools or stones to open shellfish like clams and mussels. Some sea otters have been observed or watched lying on their backs using rocks to crack open the shells. They may even drop heavy objects on the shells to crack them open as well.
Sea Otter Babies
The gestation period of a baby sea otter is about six months. Female sea otters give birth throughout the entire year. But depending on the species, there seem to be peaks between May and June or March and September.
Female otters give birth in that water and normally have a single pup. They are normally 22-24in long and weigh about 4.5-5 pounds after being born. Their eyes are already open. They have teeth coming through. And they have a thick coat of fur as well. Baby otters still rely on their mother for protection and food.
Sea otter pups drink milk from their moms until they are about 14 months old. If the mother needs to eat and leave her baby, she will wrap it in kelp to keep it from drifting. When the mother senses danger she will grab the baby and dive until they reach safety.
Sea Otter Issues
Sea otters are listed as a threatened species on the endangered species list. This is largely due to humans. Humans are known for shooting otters, striking otters with their boats, and accidentally tangling them in their fishing gear. The biggest threats to the sea otter, however, are pollution, oil spills, diseases, and loss of kelp. These threats often cause habitat loss for otters, and they often die when they cannot find somewhere to live.
Sea otters are more vulnerable to oil spills because of the amount of time they spend on the surface of the water floating and swimming. Sea otters are often pulled from oil spills and have to be cleaned with dawn soap. This gets rid of the oil. In 1989 when the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill happened, 357 sea otters were treated at rehabilitation centers. Sadly over 100 were killed because of the oil spill.
Fun Facts About Sea Otters
Sea otters are very interesting animals, and there are a lot of fun facts about them.
- 90% of all sea otters live on the coast of Alaska.
- Sea otters eat 25% of their body weight in food every day. Wow! That’s hungry.
- Unlike most marine mammals, they don’t have a layer of blubber.
- They have the thickest fur of all animals.
- Sea otters can hold their breath for up to 5 minutes. But that’s not as long as the river otter, which can hold theirs for up to 8 minutes!
- Baby otters stay with their moms until they are at least 6 months old.
- Otters have strong teeth and an even stronger bite.
- A sea otter can live it’s entire life without ever leaving the water.
Sea otters are fascinating creatures. Whether they are using stones or tools to crack open their food or relaxing with their family holding hands and floating on their backs. Otters have a certain personality that any other mammal can not match in the animal kingdom.
Next time you visit a zoo or aquarium, check to see if they have a sea otter exhibit. You won’t be disappointed, and you can probably teach your family and friends a little about them and what makes them so great!