Environment

Sea Otter Facts: Animals of the Oceans

Ocean-dwelling Sea Otters are less stocky than their riverine Otter counterparts.

Physical Description

The semi-aquatic creatures known as Sea otters may grow to between 34 and 60 inches in length, though it is very rare to find a Sea Otter surpassing 50 inches. In their adult stages of life, Sea Otters will weigh from 7 to 31 pounds. The North American Sea Otter is a much larger breed compared to Asian counterpart species, who only grow to around 10 pounds. Sea Otters that are found in river settings tend to have slender, serpentine bodies, whereas other Otters, though similar in shape, will appear more stocky. Their webbed feet and velvety fur allows for more graceful movements through the water, with this fur also keeping the Sea Otter warm as well.

Diet

These little sea mammals' diets consist of small marine life that they fish themselves, at times using tools to assist them in opening shells. Sea stars, crabs, squid, sea urchins, mussels, and snails are among the Sea Otter’s favorite foods. When hunting for their food, a Sea Otter will dive into the water where they can hold their breath for up to five minutes at a time. Sea Otters will use open shells or rocks to smash open prey and dislodge their food. They will also store certain foods inside skinfold pockets (or pouches) located underneath their forearms.

Habitat and Range

Sea Otters are considered a "keystone species", meaning they have a larger impact on the environment than many other animals. In terms of predators, Sea Otters are a key to balancing kelp ecosystems, as the foods they prey on can devour entire kelp forests. Additionally, Sea Otters help reduce levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, as the kelp forests they help protect capture carbon in coastal ecosystems. Sea Otters rely completely on water, as they hunt on the ocean floor and use the ocean surface to eat, groom, and sleep. The Sea otter is classified as "Endangered" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

Behavior

As far as social animals go, Sea Otters top the list. To prevent floating away from food supplies and their peers, between 10 and 100 Sea Otters will hold hands at night, in order to create a raft-like system as they sleep. Sea Otters may not be picky about what they eat, but they are very picky about how they eat it. Indeed, Sea Otters will only eat when floating on their backs, and will wallow in the water to clean themselves of food scraps.

Reproduction

Sea Otters will mate throughout the year, and they are one of the few animals to have a gestation of 6 to 8 months. Males will commonly mate with many females during a season, which contributes to the high rates of increase possible among Sea Otter populations, giving hope to allowing them to bounce back where their numbers have dwindled. After giving birth to either one or two pups, a baby Sea Otter will be completely dependent upon its mother for survival, largely because it’s born blind into the water. Mother Sea Otters will carry their babies on their stomachs, or otherwise set them off on land while hunting until the young ones are around 3 to 5 months of age. At this time, Sea Otters will begin to shadow their mother and learn to hunt for themselves. Maturity is reached at around 5 years of age for Sea Otters, and they will typically live between 10 and 15 years in the wild on average.

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