Sea Otters

sea otters

There are few Alaska animals more endearing than sea otters.

Besides being so darn "cute" in physical appearance, their energy, playfulness, and almost human social and parental activities make them a favorite of any outdoor enthusiast.

On an inside passage cruise there is no shortage of opportunities to see this winsome marine inhabitant, and can be encountered on a daily basis. The smaller the watercraft, obviously, the greater the chance of seeing them up close; but they are certainly observable at a distance from the balcony of a large cruise ship, as was the case for us.

Some Facts About Sea Otters

As the video illustrates marine otters will squawk and bark at impending danger, urging encroaching intruders to keep their distance.

The northern sea otter has three main populations in the greater Alaska area. The Southwest population stretches from the western edge of Cook Inlet out to the Aleutian islands, the Southcentral population from west of Glacier Bay to the eastern edge of Cook Inlet and the Southeast stock can be found in the coastal waters of Southeast Alaska.

Males can weigh more than 100 lbs (45 kg); females are usually between 50-70 lbs (23-32 kg).

Sea otters' dark brown fur is so dense a penny-sized area has about 250,000 hairs, the thickest fur of any animal. It keeps them warm by holding masses of tiny air bubbles, and doesn't do it's job properly if it's dirty, hence the constant grooming.

In the armpit is a pouch to store food and special flaps of skin cover the ears to keep them dry.

Swimming is aided by webbed back feet and a wide, flat tail.

Most of life is spent in the sea and sleep happens while floating on their backs, often anchored to a strand of kelp to prevent drifting.

Sea otters are very social. While pups live only with their mothers, moms and pups can often be found in "rafts" of up to 100.

A large calorie-count is needed to stay warm in Alaskan waters. Usual diet consists of fish, small sea animals, crabs, clams and red sea urchins, and they consume 1/4 their body weight each day. One of the more well known dining activities is setting a stone on it's table (chest) and using it to smash open a clam or crab.

Prior to the 20th century the fur trade brought the population to near extinction. Their protected status has helped stabilize the population, except perhaps in the Aleutian Island area where it's thought orcas are targeting otters. And of course a constant threat is oil spills because they spend so much time on the water's surface.

The best way to view these enchanting animals is from shore or on small craft such as kayaks.

   

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