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Sea Otters

Copyright Barbara Samuelson 1998

Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris), otter native to the American and Asian shores of the North Pacific Ocean. Similar in appearance and in aquatic habits to the Eurasian and North American otters, it is of sturdy build and reaches a length of 1 to 1.2 m (3.3 to 4 ft). Sea otters feed mainly on mollusks and sea urchins, which they crush with their large, blunt teeth. Sea otters also regularly use rocks as tools to open shellfish while swimming on their backs. The female gives birth to a single offspring at a time, which she nurses while lying on her back in the water. The sea otter is the only marine mammal lacking an insulating layer of blubber, which serves to protect the animal from the frigid ocean waters. To compensate for this lack of blubber, the sea otter must constantly preen its fur, keeping it meticulously clean and allowing an insulating layer of air to be trapped against the skin. When contaminated by oil, sea otters lose the ability to protect themselves against cold ocean waters, since the oil mats the fur, preventing the insulating air space from forming. In addition, the sea otter will ingest the oil as it cleans its fur, usually causing illness and death.

Sea Otter Dining in the Estuary at Morro Rock, California
Copyright Barbara Samuelson 2002

The pelt of the sea otter furnishes one of the most highly prized of all furs. The brown inner fur is soft, dense, and woolly and is overlaid by the coarser and longer gray-tipped hairs of the outer fur. Once abundant, sea otters were hunted almost to extinction during the first half of the 20th century. Subsequent protective measures increased their numbers along the coasts of California and Alaska. Scientific classification: The sea otter belongs to the family Mustelidae of the order Carnivora."Sea Otter," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

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