OCTOBER 2, 2021
YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
This week’s featured critter is a special one to me.
I’ve been fascinated with these animals since I was a little boy myself. I’ve even had the chance to interact with them up close on a few occasions in my life.
They’re furry, floaty, collect rocks, and are super curious.
This week, we’re taking a look at sea otters!
Sea otters are one of the smallest mammals in the ocean, growing to only 1 to 1.5 metres (3.3 to 4.9 feet) long and weighing between 14 and 45 kilograms (31 to 99 pounds).
At one point, they were near extinction, but thanks to conservation and rescue efforts, they’re thriving again.
While still endangered, an estimated 150,000 sea otters now call the oceans of our planet home.
While most ocean-dwelling mammals rely on a thick layer of blubber or fat to insulate them from the chilly waters, sea otters instead use exceptionally thick fur.
They are equipped with a dual-layer coat consisting of long guard hairs and a short underfur.
The outer hairs keep the underfur layer dry, allowing the otters to trap heat and stay comfortable in the cold water.
This guard layer requires thorough cleaning and constantly sheds throughout the year.
This is why you’ll often see sea otters grooming and taking care of their coats.
It’s easy to see how these aquatic mammals were made for life around water.
Their nostrils and ears can close, which allows them to dive to great depths for minutes at a time without risk.
Their webbed hind feet act like paddles, helping them shoot through the water at speeds of up to 9 kilometres per hour (5.6 miles per hour)!
Their short front arms are purposefully designed to tuck in close to their body while they swim. This allows them to remain agile as they attempt to snag fish and other prey that might be passing by.
The grippy pads on their paws and their retractable cat-like claws help to secure their prey once it’s caught, making any attempts at escape a challenging task!
Sea Otters also have long, sensitive whiskers.
These whiskers help otters to detect food and navigate dark or murky waters.
Above water, they’re known to use their very keen sense of smell to stay ahead of potential predators or seek out food sources.
Their flat, round teeth help them to crush fish, octopuses, and crabs.
One of their favourite treats, however, is sea urchin.
Most of the time, they’ll float on their backs to eat.
Sometimes, they’ll use rocks (which they often keep in a pocket near their arms) to break open the shells of clams, mussels, and other shellfish that they can’t simply bite or chew.
This makes otters one of the few mammal species proven to use tools when hunting and feeding.
Otters often rest in groups called a romp or a raft. These can contain anywhere from 10 to 2,000 otters!
In most cases, these rafts are exclusively male or female, with otters of opposite sexes mainly interacting during breeding seasons.
Otters typically give birth to a single pup, and mothers will spend up to a year keeping their pup safe and well-fed while teaching it important survival skills.
In the wild, otters can live for as long as 20 years!
As adults, an otters’ primary predators are orcas and sea lions.
Coastal regions with bears, coyotes, or eagles can also prove troublesome for young otter pups.
Sea otters are a popular inhabitant of many coastal aquariums and zoos, offering people a good chance to see one up close.
They’re also naturally curious and social, so while you shouldn’t approach one in the wild, they’re not likely to run and hide if you spot one nearby.
If you see a sea otter scratching, it’s probably not itchy. Instead, they’re fluffing their coat to trap air. This helps them float and keeps their underfur dry.
Sea otters have 170,000 to 1,062,000 hairs per square inch, making them one of the hairiest mammals in the world!
While sea otters are one of the smallest marine mammals, they’re the largest member of the Mustelidae family, which includes skunks, weasels, wolverines, and badgers.
Sea otters often sleep floating on their backs while holding hands with their friends! They’ll also use nearby kelp or seaweed as an anchor to ensure they don’t float way while snoozing.
Some cool stuff from around the web we think you and your kids will enjoy.
A Bird’s Eye View
Get a unique perspective on our planet with this selection of 10 images from the Landsat 8 satellite.
Around the Clock Otters!
This 24/7 stream of otters from the Vancouver Aquarium is as cute as it is educational.
MarineMammalRescue | Twitch
Mighty Mustelid Mandibles
A look at the science behind a strong bite and why kilo for kilo, weasels top the charts!
BBC Earth | YouTube
Is Your Cat Knead-y?
There are a lot of good reasons for that. The Conversation breaks them all down in this quick look.
— A. A. Milne
What animal should you not play sports with?
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Today’s email was written by Joshua J. with contributions by Geoff W. and Branden S.
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