Are you from around here?
Our sea otters have arrived at the Seattle Aquarium in a variety of interesting ways. Adaa was discovered on an airport runway at Port Heiden, Alaska in January of 2000. Suffering from hypothermia, he received emergency care at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward and was then flown to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where he lived until he joined the Seattle Aquarium, in April of 2004. Lootas was just a few weeks old when her mother was accidentally killed by a boat in Kodiak, Alaska. Arriving at the Aquarium at 6 weeks of age, she was cared for 'round the clock' by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers for several months before joining our other otters. She is the mother to three pups, all born right here at the Seattle Aquarium: Yaku, a male born in 2000, who is currently residing at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago; Alki, a male born in 2005, who now resides at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium; and Aniak, a female born in 2002, who still lives here with us. Aniak grew up and now has a pup of her own: Sekiu, who was born on January 14, 2012 and lives here at the Seattle Aquarium.
Home, sweet home
In the wild, most northern sea otters live in rocky coastal habitats near points of land where some of the areas are protected from wind and waves. In the world of sea otter real estate, a nearby kelp bed is an added bonus!
What's with all the grooming?
Sea otters spend about 15 percent of each day grooming their fur by rolling and whirling in the water to remove food scraps and debris. They rub, comb and rake their fur with their forepaws and lick the fur with their coarse tongues. And they're not just doing it to look good! The fur insulates their bodies by trapping tiny air bubbles and keeping a layer of air between the outer surface and their skin. If the fur becomes dirty, it loses its insulating qualities, allowing water to penetrate all the way to the skin. Brrrr!
There are approximately 500,000 hairs on every square inch of a sea otter's fur - that equals the number of hairs on 3 or 4 entire human heads!
Sea otters can dive to depths up to 300 feet and remain underwater for up to 5 minutes while hunting for food, although most dives are much shorter and shallower.
Wanna hold hands?
In the wild, sea otters sometimes “hold hands”—or, more accurately, paws—while sleeping so they don’t drift away from their raft (the term for a group of resting sea otters). While charming to think about, this paw holding doesn’t actually happen that frequently. Large rafts of sea otters in the wild are more likely to stay together by watching each other, listening for each other, and casual body contact—then adjusting movements of their tails and rear flippers to maintain proximity. Paw holding is most likely a learned behavior specific to certain individual sea otters, who may find it comforting! Awwww.
Who’s who? Sea otters vs. river otters
Many people don’t know the difference between sea otters and river otters – but, with a little info
, you’ll be able to tell right away. First, sea otters are 2-3 times the size of river otters – and, when at the water’s surface, they float on their backs, while river otters swim belly down like most animals. Next, the tail of a sea otter is short and flattened; a river otter’s tail is long and pointed. Also, sea otters spend most of their lives in the water, where they breed, give birth, hunt for food and sleep. River otters live most of their life on solid ground and use the water to travel and find food. There are other important differences between these two species as well: northern sea otters are found only in coastal areas, with a range that extends north from the Washington coast, along the outer edge of Vancouver Island, and up to Alaska. They are occasionally seen along the Straits of Juan de Fuca near Port Angeles, but they rarely venture further inland than that. River otters in our region, on the other hand, are found all over Washington State and are commonly seen in pond and stream habitats as well as Puget Sound. Also, female sea otters give birth to just one pup at a time – river otters may give birth to several cubs in a litter. Click here
for a brochure on the differences between sea otters and river otters.
Making a (slow) comeback
Hundreds of thousands of sea otters once lived along most of the coastal North Pacific. That was before fur traders hunted them for their thick, luxurious pelts in the late 1800s. By the year 1900, sea otters were nearly extinct: less than 2,000 remained. The international Fur Seal Treaty of 1911 stopped further exploitation of sea otters, as did the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. Their numbers are now on the rise, but nowhere near their previous levels.