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Sea Otter

Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are marine mammals native to North Pacific coast from Alaska to California. Adult sea otters weigh between 30-100lb (14-45kg), making them the heaviest members of the weasel family. Sea otters inhabit nearshore environments where they can quickly dive to the sea floor to search for food. They prey mostly upon marine invertebrates such as sea urchins, mollusks, and crustaceans, but also various fish species. They often use rocks to dislodge prey and to open shells, making them one of the few mammals to use tools. In most of their range, they are a keystone species, controlling sea urchin populations which would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystems. Their diet includes prey species that are also valued by humans as food, leading to conflicts between sea otters and fishermen.

Unlike most marine mammals, the sea otter’s primary form of insulation is an exceptionally thick coat of fur. Sea otters have the densest fur of any mammal. Hair density varies dramatically with location on the body, ranging from about 170,000-1,062,000 hairs per square inch (26,000-165,000 hairs per square cm). Their population was once estimated at 150,000-300,000, but they were hunted extensively for their fur between 1741-1911. The world population fell to 1,000-2,000 individuals in a small part of their historic range. An international ban on hunting, conservation efforts, and reintroduction programs into previously populated areas has contributed to their recovery, and they now occupy about two-thirds of their former range. The recovery of the sea otter is considered an important success in marine conservation, although populations in the Aleutian Islands and California have recently declined or have plateaued at depressed levels. For these reasons (as well as their particular vulnerability to oil spills) the sea otter remains classified as an endangered species.

Sea otters can do well in captivity, and are featured in over 40 public aquariums and zoos, where they are often the most popular exhibit. Some of the best locations to photograph sea otters in the wild include Prince William Sound and Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, and Monterey Bay in California.

Also, enjoy photo galleries of California Sea Lion, Northern Fur Seal, Steller Sea Lion, Guadalupe Fur Seal, Harbor Seal, Southern Elephant Seal, and Walrus, or return to the Pinnipeds main gallery.

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