Sea Otter

(Enhydra lutris)

Factoid:

The sea otter has the thickest fur in the animal kingdom.

Status:

Threatened off California and Alaska.

Population:

Today there are roughly 3,000 southern sea otters off the coast of California. Around 65,000 northern sea otters inhabit the coastline of Alaska, and there are approximately 15,000 in Russia (Siberia). Two hundred years ago, demand for the otter's pelt nearly led to its extinction.

Threats:

Oil spills, habitat loss, plastic entanglement, and conflict with abalone fishermen.

Survival:

The average sea otter lives 10 or 11 years.

Unlike other marine mammals, the sea otter does not have a layer of blubber (fat) to help keep it warm. If an otter's fur gets coated with oil or any other substance, the otter can easily die from cold and exposure.

The sea otter is the largest member of the weasel family. Southern sea otters typically reach about four feet in length. Females average 45 pounds, while males average 65 pounds. Alaskan or northern sea otters can reach up to 100 pounds.

Sea otters are found in the shallow coastal waters of the northern Pacific. Their historic range stretched from the Kurile Islands of Japan, along the coast of Siberia and the Aleutian Chain and down the Alaska and British Columbia coast to Baja California.

Sea otters are one of the only mammals other than primates known to use tools. Otters use small rocks or other shellfish to pry prey from rocks and to hammer or pry open their food. They can dive up to 180 feet when foraging for food. Their favorite foods include sea urchins, abalone, mussels, clams, crabs, and snails.

National Parks:

Sea otters are found in Redwood National Park, CA; Olympic National Park, WA; Kenai Fjords National Park, AK; Katmai National Park, AK; and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK.

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