The Sea Otter
The sea otter is the heaviest member of the Mustelidae (weasel) family and the second smallest of marine mammals. These adorable creatures can be found floating in the waters along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean in Russia, Japan, Canada, California, Washington and Alaska. The largest population is in Alaska. They spend the majority of their time in the water. They eat, sleep, mate and some even give birth in the water. Continue reading for more sea otter information.
The average length of sea otters is 3 to 5 feet but they can grow up to 6 feet long. Males can weigh up to 100 pounds and females can weigh up to 60 pounds. Those that live in Alaska are among the largest. They have webbed hind feet, agile paws, semi-retractable claws and ears and nostrils that close when in the water. Unlike other marine mammals, such as the seal and walrus, sea otters do not have blubber to keep them warm. However, they do have the densest fur of all animals to protect them from the cold weather and chilly waters. One square inch of their fur contains up to one million hairs!
Not only are these otters extremely cute, they are also very intelligent. They are one of the few animals to use tools. While floating in the water on their backs, they will place a rock or other hard object on their chest and smash a shellfish against it to break it open. Also, at night time, they will often drape themselves with strands of kelp to keep them from drifting away in the swirling sea while sleeping.
Sea otters eat a variety of food, including abalone, clams, mussels, crabs, sea urchins, snails, sea stars, fish, squid and octopuses. They can dive to depths of 330 feet to search for food and will safely tuck their findings in loose skin folds under their armpits. These otters have a big appetite and will consume about 25% of their body weight in food each day.
Sea otters are the only otters to give birth in the water. The gestation period lasts about 6 months and the litter size is usually just one pup but, although rare, the mother can give birth to twins. The pups weigh from 3 to 5 pounds when born and are independent in about 11 months. They reach sexual maturity at the age of 4 or 5 and females will give birth every 1 to 2 years.
Once there were over a million sea otters until they were hunted for their valuable fur. In the early 1900s, their numbers plummeted to less than 2,000. They were placed on the endangered list and now about 150,000 exist. Today, they are classified as threatened.
The following contains more interesting sea otter information:
• They are very playful with other otters and seals.
• They are the only carnivores (meat eaters) with 4 incisor teeth in the lower jaw.
• Oil spills are a big threat to sea otters because the oil damages their fur, causing them to die from the cold. Several thousand died from the Exxon oil spill in 1989.
• In the wild, they can live about 15 to 20 years. Females usually live longer than males.