Four fun facts about sea otters

1.     Sea otters have the densest hair of any mammal – around 900,000 hairs per square inch (140,000 hairs/cm2)[1]. That’s more than 500X denser than the hair on the human scalp, which averages at 1600 hairs per square inch (250 hairs/cm2).[2]


2     Sea otters have individual preferences for prey. Some sea otters prefer to crunch on crabs, while others prefer mussels, even when comparing the diets of members of the same species in the same area.

Food preferences seem to be passed from mother to pup, probably as a result of teaching the youngster how to catch and consume their prey.[3]

Sea otters typically return to the surface to enjoy their catch, making it easier for scientists to monitor their diet from shore. Video credit: Toru Higuchi, youtube


3.  Sea otters are the smallest marine mammal. In California, female otters weigh about 50 pounds (about 23 kg) and males can reach up to 90 pounds (40 kg).  The largest marine mammal, the blue whale, weighs around 200,000 lbs (about 91,000 kg)[4].

Before you say pipsqueak, you might want to know that otters are the largest member of their family, the mostly land-loving Family Mustelidae, which includes skunks, weasels, and badgers.


4.  The ancestor of the modern sea otter moved from land to sea around 2 million years ago, a relatively recent transition compared to other marine mammals[5]. In contrast, the ancestors of today’s seals and whales moved to the water about 50-60 million years ago. The ancestors of seals and whales both evolved blubber—a layer of fat that acts as an energy reserve and helps keeps them warm in frigid ocean waters. Sea otters, on the other hand, don’t have blubber.

The Sea Otter Research and Conservation program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been studying sea otters since 1984. The SciCom class got to spend a day with three researchers monitoring a population of sea otters bobbing, diving, and playing in the waters directly behind the aquarium. We even got a taste of what it’s like to be a sea otter researcher, peering through onshore telescopes to watch wild otters. Here’s my best attempt at capturing the telescope’s view with my digital camera.

, , , , ,

0 Responses to Four fun facts about sea otters

  1. Will 6 November, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    I think I recognize the influence of the Nads school of improvised technical photography in this video.

    My favorite otter fact is that otter poop is properly referred to as “spraint.”

  2. sly 6 November, 2010 at 9:26 pm #

    Yes, I was definitely channeling some Nads that day.

    Spraint? Never knew that! A search for other animal-specific poop names led me to this great (aren’t they all?) Straight Dope article. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/250/is-it-true-every-type-of-animal-dropping-has-its-own-name

  3. nadia drake 6 November, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    The Nads N. Nads School for Luddites & Associated Rudimentary Improvisational Non-technical Tech Usage proudly announces its
    opening…your letter will arrive by Pony Express in several weeks.

    Channel away!

    PS…even dinopoop has a name. huh.

Leave a Reply