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Sea Otter Enhydra lutris

 

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Sea Otter with young
credit: Mike Baird/CCSA

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Family: Mustelidae, Weasels view all from this family



Description The only fully aquatic carnivore, and one of the smallest marine mammals, with plush fur, pawlike hands, and flipper-like feet. Tail is flattened dorso-ventrally. Noses of females are often scarred from aggressive males.


Dimensions 1.3-1.4m, 36cm, 18.0-45.0kg; / 1.1-1.4m, 27cm, 11.0-33.0kg


Endangered Status The Southern Sea Otter, a subspecies of the Sea Otter, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in California. Once an abundant species, the Sea Otter was so heavily hunted for its highly prized pelt that by 1911, when an international treaty forbade its massacre, it had nearly become extinct. The animal was not seen in California for many years, but in the spring of 1938, a herd appeared in the sea south of Carmel. Today the population there is perhaps 2,000. The southeast Alaska-Washington population seems to be holding steady, with the exception of the region where the Exxon Valdez oil spill wiped out thousands. The very large herds found in the Aleutian Islands have lost some 70 percent of their numbers in recent years, and the Aleutian population is now a candidate species for endangered status. Killer Whales are believed to be the culprits, feeding on Sea Otters because their traditional prey species, the Northern Sea Lion, has become rarer. There is an ongoing controversy between fishermen and conservationists concerning the Southern Sea Otter. Conservationists want to keep the animal on the Endangered Species List to ensure its protection, but fishermen want to control the Sea Otter in order to limit damage to abalone populations.


Breeding Females breed at about 4 years and have a single young annually after a gestation period of about 6 months.


Habitat Beaches, shorelines & estuaries, Offshore waters


Range California, Northwest, Western Canada, Alaska


Discussion Forages solitarily (females with their pups), but often rests and socializes in groups called “rafts” that are readily observable from shore. Rafts in south are small (fewer than 12) but hundreds of males may congregate in the north. Foraging dives last from a few seconds to 4 minutes, and prey items are brought to the surface to eat. Sea Otters typically float on their back and handle invertebrate prey on their belly, using rocks as tools to open hard invertebrates. Recovering from massive hunting at turn of century, still threatened. Lives in shallow coastal waters.


 

 

 

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