Sea Otters

Photo of a Sea Otter taken by Dave Bezaire & Susi Havens-Bezaire

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Mustelidae
Genius: Enhydra
Species: Lutris

Today we’re going to discuss sea otters! These adorable carnivores can be rather cool to read about, especially when you get into behavior, adaptations, and their ecological role in their environment.

The sea otter is the only otter that can spend its whole life in the ocean, all other otter species dwell near the water for resources but lack the adaptations needed to live in the water. One such adaptation is their fur in sea otters, which was highly coveted by fur traders a century or more ago because of how dense it was.

In fact, they have the densest coat of all mammals, their hairs are so tightly packed that water can’t penetrate, keeping them nice and dry in the cold Pacific waters. And while all the other mammals are jealous of their glorious fur, the sea otters need it because they lack any real fat to help keep them warm.

These guys can be found along the coasts of Japan, Alaska, and California and especially near kelp forests. Enhydra lutris are what we call a keystone species because of their massive impact on the kelp forests, which I’ll discuss in a later post.

Sea otters are carnivores that feed on crabs, sea urchins, and mollusks. They can dive up to 40 meters to grab food that they bring to the surface, and then they use a stone to crack open shells and other protective covers so they can get at the meat inside.

I know what you’re thinking, if these guys can’t breathe underwater how do they sleep? Well, they use the giant kelp around them to help prevent them from drifting out to sea with the ocean current. They also live in communities with other sea otters, making them social creatures. When they need to rest they’ll form groups called rafts, and they’ll hold onto each other to keep their friends and baby otters from drifting out to sea—cute, right?

Like I’ve said earlier, there is so much more to sea otters than I can discuss in a single post. If I’ve piqued your interest, then I highly recommend looking at the links I’ve provided below! They’re cool mammals that use tools to help them with food and survival, and they’re also extremely adorable to watch. If I could do several more posts about sea otters I would, but that wouldn’t be very fair to the other sea creatures that are incredible in their own right!

Sources and cool references to check out:

Ocean the Definitive Visual Guide by the American Museum of Natural History
https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Enhydra_lutris/#food_habits

https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/animals-a-to-z/sea-otter

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