Celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week! Learn all about these playful marine mammals and the conservation challenges they are facing.
September 21 to 27 is Sea Otter Awareness Week! This event, now in its 12th year, strives to educate about sea otters, their role in the ecosystem, and the conservation issues everyone’s furry favourites are currently facing.
Population and threats
Sea otter populations have decreased dramatically throughout their history. Before wide-scale hunting began for the otters’ fur, their worldwide population was estimated at 300,000. Now, sea otters are only found in certain areas and are an endangered species:
- BC (population approximately 5,000)
- Russia (population approximately 22,500)
- Alaska (population approximately 71,500)
- California (population approximately 2,500)
- Washington (population approximately 550)
Oil spills are the biggest threat to sea otters. Once their fur is coated in oil, otters lose all their insulation as they do not have blubber to keep them warm like other marine mammals. This leads to hypothermia and pneumonia. They are also at risk of inhaling and ingesting the oil after trying to clean their fur, which can damage their kidneys, liver, and lungs.
You “otter” know this!
- There’s a reason otters were hunted for their pelts. Sea otters have one of the densest and warmest coats in the animal kingdom. An adult will have 800 million to 1 billion individual strands of hair, making up an outer guard layer and soft, dense underfur.
- They have to take extra special care of their coats to keep them in tip-top condition. Otters spend much of their time grooming. They will lick and blow into their fur, and have a great time doing somersaults in the water in order to trap an insulating layer of air bubbles to keep them warm.
- Sea otter pups are born with special, buoyant coats called lanugos. These built-in life vests keep the otter babies safely floating on the surface for the first two months of their lives.
- Sea otters live on molluscs and crustaceans, using their sense of touch to find delicious things to eat on the ocean floor. Sea otters need to eat up to 30 percent of their body weight a day, in order to maintain good body temperature. That is equal to around 25 lb (10 kg) of seafood!
- One of the only mammals to use tools, they can be seen repeatedly using a rock to break open the shells on their tummies. Some otters have a favourite rock that they use throughout their entire lives, storing it in a pouch near their armpit for safe-keeping. These handy pockets are also useful for keeping prey until they are ready to come to the surface to eat.
- Groups or “rafts” of 10 to 100 sea otters will rest together, sometimes holding paws or wrapping themselves up in kelp to keep from drifting away while they are sleeping.
You “otter” get involved
Check out your local aquarium to see if they have any special otter events that you can go to with your family.
If you’re lucky enough to live close to the West Coast, why not take a coastal walk with your binoculars and see if you can spot some of these enchanting creatures in the wild?