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.
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.
can weigh more than 100 lbs (45 kg); females are usually between
50-70 lbs (23-32 kg).
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.
is aided by webbed back feet and a wide, flat tail.
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.
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.
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.
best way to view these enchanting animals is from shore or on small
craft such as kayaks.