It seems safe to say that otters are the teddy bears of the ocean. Children and adults alike enjoy encountering these adorable, playful, and fluffy creatures in zoos and aquariums or even in their natural habitat.
Related to river otters, weasels, and ferrets, the much-adored marine mammals known as sea otters live in three separate geographical locations, and this geographical diversity warrants their classification into three different subspecies. These subspecies are southern sea otter, northern sea otter, and Russian sea otter. The first subspecies reside in California, the second along the coast of Washington and Alaska, and the third off the coasts of Russia and Japan.
At Harbor Breeze Cruises, we enjoy educating guests of all ages who board our eco-friendly catamarans for a whale-watching cruise, not to mention visitors who peruse our website to learn more about what we offer. This blog post will provide ten southern sea otter facts that we hope will make you appreciate the California sea otter not just for its undeniable cuteness but also for the important role it plays in the waters it inhabits.
Southern Sea Otter Fact #1: The Southern Sea otter Is Also Known as the California Sea Otter
If you join us on a whale-watching cruise and hear one of our Aquarium of the Pacific educators talking about the California sea otter or the southern sea otter, know that they are one and the same! Southern sea otters are nicknamed California sea otters because their range covers San Mateo County in the north to near Santa Barbara County in the south. As a whale-watching cruise company headquartered in southern California, we’re delighted to share the waters with southern sea otters and we hope our knowledgeable, passionate crew will inspire you to find ways to protect these and other precious mammals so they continue to exist for generations to come!
Southern Sea Otter Fact #2: Their Eating Habits Are Quite Humorous
A California sea otter likes to use its chest as a table. When the otter snags an abalone, crab, snail, clam, or other delicious meal, it will consume its food while floating on its back. Another one of our favorite southern sea otter facts as it relates to food: these otters have loose skin under their forearms, creating a pocket they can use to safely stash their food, which comes in handy when they want to dive for more!
Southern Sea Otter Fact #3: They’re the Smallest Marine Mammals in the Sea
Adult females weigh approximately 46 pounds, and males weigh up to 64. For reference, this is about the size of a medium-sized dog.
Southern Sea Otter Fact #4: They Don’t Have Blubber to Keep Them Warm
The Member Magazine of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology published a fascinating article about sea otters in regard to their fur and metabolism. While most marine mammals have a thick layer of fat or blubber, this isn’t the case with the sea otter. The otter must rely on their water-resistant fur as insulation from the cold. The aforementioned article states, “Dense fur is not enough, by itself, to keep sea otters warm. To generate enough body heat, their metabolic rate at rest is about three times higher than that of most mammals of similar size. This high metabolic rate has a cost, though. To obtain enough energy to fuel the high demand, sea otters must eat more than 20% of their body mass in food each day. In comparison, humans eat around 2% of their body mass.”
Southern Sea Otter Fact #5: The California Sea Otter Can Dive for Up to Three Minutes at a Time
Since sea otters rely on food not only for sustenance but also for warmth, a majority of their day is spent diving for food. The southern sea otter uses its sensitive whiskers during each dive, and when it’s successful, it’s not timid when it comes to breaking open the shells of its prey by banging them on nearby rocks.
Southern Sea Otter Fact #6: When They’re Not Eating, They’re Grooming
If you’ve been fortunate enough to observe a sea otter, chances are you noticed it grooming itself. According to the Aquarium of the Pacific, “Sea otters have the densest fur of any animal on the planet. In just one square inch, a sea otter has 800,000 to one million hairs, more than enough to cover an entire adult dog or cat. This lush coat makes grooming a vital and an almost constant activity. The animals are very limber and their skeletons are loosely jointed, meaning they can easily reach and groom every single part of their bodies.”
Southern Sea Otter Fact #7: Baby Sea Otters Are Dependent Upon Their Mothers
Females typically give birth to a single pup. For the first six months of that pup’s life, the California sea otter needs its mother. The mother otter will teach its newborn how to swim, forage, and groom. Sadly, baby otters who get separated from their mothers may not survive because they don’t have the skills they need to live independently.
Southern Sea Otter Fact #8: Rest is Best While in Good Company, According to the California Sea Otter
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that sea otters are social animals and they prefer to rest in groups. “To keep from drifting while resting,” they write, “they often wrap themselves up in kelp or seagrass, forming something that resembles a raft.”
Southern Sea Otter Fact #9: Otters Keep Delicate Food Systems in Check
Otters play a fundamental role in the natural food web, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their website states that California sea otters “keep important elements of coastal ecosystems like kelp forests and seagrass beds in balance.” This is important, they note, because “kelp forests provide numerous benefits, including habitat for hundreds of invertebrate and fish species, reductions in coastal erosion and carbon storage that can moderate climate change. Seagrasses also provide important benefits, like nursery habitat for many other species, shoreline protection and carbon sequestration.” This means that the more California sea otters we have in the wild, the better and healthier our oceans!
Southern Sea Otter Fact #10: California Sea Otters Almost Went Extinct
In the 1700s and 1800s, the California sea otter almost went extinct. Why? They were hunted for their pelts during the fur trade. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports that “the subspecies survived because a few dozen animals eluded hunters off the rugged coast of Big Sur.”
Since we want to end this blog on a positive note, we’re pleased to inform you that the southern sea otter is protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and California state law.
Book the Cruise of a Lifetime in Southern California
We hope you enjoyed reading these sensational southern sea otter facts.
Our crew at Harbor Breeze Cruises would be thrilled to take you on a whale-watching cruise so you can see and experience marine wildlife from the comfort of one of our catamarans. An incredible and affordable adventure awaits you, and our experienced guides will ensure that your experience is not only exciting and memorable but also educational and inspiring.
Book your cruise today by calling 562-983-6800 or, if you’d prefer, purchase tickets on our website. We hope to “sea” you on the “otter” side of a picturesque Pacific Ocean adventure with Harbor Bruise Cruises!