Who doesn’t love watching otters holding hands, playing, and using each other’s tummies as rafts? Sea otters, which live in northern coastal areas of the Pacific Ocean, are iconically adorable animals, their charm makes them great mascots for environmental protection efforts, and their importance to their local ecosystems cannot be understated.
Sadly, sea otters are threatened by pollution, poaching, and commercial fishing, which sometimes leads to baby otters washing up to shore unattended. But thanks to the efforts of aquariums where people are able to care for them around the clock and teach these cute otters life skills, even baby animals that are orphans have a chance of making it to adulthood.
And we get lots of adorable baby otter pics along the way. Scroll down, have a look, and upvote the cutest photos!
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Baby sea otters’ fluff isn’t just adorable, it’s practical: they can’t sink because their incredibly dense hair traps air, making them float. But they still have to be taught to swim and groom themselves, which is more difficult for humans to encourage them to do without an adult otter to show them.
Another reason why raising orphaned otters isn't easy is because they get sick easily due to not receiving antibodies from their mother’s milk, a condition you may be familiar with if you’ve ever had to bottle-feed abandoned kittens or puppies.
Many orphaned otters who are raised through this difficult period by humans are determined by wildlife experts to be non-releasable, meaning they become too trusting of humans to be safe in the wild, and end up having to live in captivity permanently.
One aquarium in California has figured out how to increase the number of baby otters that can be successfully returned to the wild: by letting otters raise them, of course. Now, the first line of action upon taking in an orphaned otter is to give it to an adult female otter. Otters are very social and many of them don’t think twice about raising a pup that’s handed to them.
12 Facts About Otters for Sea Otter Awareness Week
Otters are some of the most adorable aquatic animals. Their charming features are unparalleled, from their expressions to their use of tools.
Held every year during the last week in September, Sea Otter Awareness Week spotlights the important role of sea otters in nearshore ecosystems of the North Pacific Ocean. Get ready for some awesome otter facts and photos. We promise that you’ll be otterly entertained!
1. Forget everything you thought you knew about otter species. Thirteen different species exist around the globe. The U.S. is home to two species: the sea otter and the North American river otter. River otters are much smaller — averaging pounds — with a cylindrical body and small head. Sea otters weigh more — around pounds — with large, furry faces.
2. Otters have some interesting relatives. Otters are part of the Mustelidae family, which is a family of carnivorous mammals that includes skunks, weasels, wolverines, and badgers. The sea otter is the largest member of the weasel family, yet the smallest marine mammal in North America.
3. Most sea otters call Alaska home.Approximately 90 percent of the world’s sea otters live in coastal Alaska. Many live in the waters surrounding public lands including Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Glacier Bay National Park. Southern sea otters range along the mainland coastline of California from San Mateo County to Santa Barbara County, and San Nicolas Island.
4. U.S. and international law protects threatened sea otters. Hunted to the edge of extinction by fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries, the few remaining sea otters (about 2, scattered in remnant colonies throughout the North Pacific rim) were first protected by the International Fur Seal Treaty in Sea otters in the United States received additional protections with the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act in the s.
5. Sea otters eat 25 percent of their body weight in food every day. Sea otters’ diets include sea urchins, crabs, mussels, and clams, which they’re known to crack open with a rock and eat while floating in the water. To find food, sea otters may occasionally dive as deep as feet and will use their sensitive whiskers to locate small prey inside crevices or their strong forepaws to dig for clams.
6. Sea otters have the thickest fur of any animal. Their fur contains between , to 1,, hair follicles per square inch. Unlike most other marine mammals, otters lack a blubber layer. Instead, they depend on their dense, water-resistant fur to provide insulation. To keep warm, sea otters spend a large portion of their days grooming and conditioning their fur. This traps air and heat next to their skin.
7. Sea otters can have a pup any time of the year. Southern sea otters breed and pup year-round, while northern sea otter pups in Alaska are usually born in the spring. A newborn pup needs constant attention and will stay with its mother for six months until it develops survival skills. Fun fact: An otter pup’s fur is so dense that it can’t dive underwater until it gets its adult fur. This comes in handy when mothers leave their pups safely floating on the water’s surface while they forage for food.
8. Don’t challenge otters to a breath holding competition. An otter’s lung capacity is times greater than that of similar-sized land mammals. Sea otters have been known to stay submerged for more than 5 minutes at a time. River otters, however, can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes. The increased time underwater improves otters’ opportunity to sense prey and forage for food.
9. Otters are an essential keystone species. A “keystone species” is a species that is critical to how an ecosystem functions because it has large-scale effects on the communities in which it lives. Along the Pacific coast, sea otters help control the sea urchin population. Fewer sea urchins in turn help prevent kelp forests from being overgrazed. In California, research has found that sea otters also enhance seagrass beds, and in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, sea otters’ expansion into the area marked a gradual return of a more diverse ecosystem and an exciting moment in colonization efforts.
The otter is one of the few mammals that use tools. A sea otter’s tool of choice: typically a rock that can be used as a hammer or anvil to break open hard-shelled prey. Ever wonder where otters actually store these tools for safe keeping? They have a loose patch of skin under their armpit to store both the food they’ve foraged and their rock to crack it open.
A group of resting otters is called a raft. Otters love to rest in groups. Researchers have seen concentrations of over 1, otters floating together. To keep from drifting away from each other, sea otters will wrap themselves up in seaweed, forming something that resembles a raft.
Otters might look soft and cuddly but remain dangerous wild animals. Otters have strong teeth and a powerful bite. So, whether you see an otter on land or at sea, be sure to maintain a safe distance of at least 5 kayak lengths or 60 feet from the otters. Learn more about staying safe around sea otters.
If an otter notices you, it probably means you’re too close. Make sure to take pictures from shore or at least 5 kayak lengths from the otters and always use your zoom. Love these fun otter facts? Check out this otter-worldly info.
Orphaned Baby Sea Otter Learns to Float: Explaining Viral Video
Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a team of animal experts to raise an orphaned sea otter.
A baby southern sea otter named Pup has made a splash online since a video of her squealing, squirming, and learning to swim at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium went up on YouTube.
The pup, rescued along the shore of California on September 30, was placed in intensive care at Monterey Bay Aquarium for four weeks before moving to Shedd.
The furry pup is not only adorable but also rare: Her species has been decimated, by the fur trade historically and by modern threats such as oil spills and climate change.
Southern sea otters are listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and approximately 3, animals remain in the wild. (See pictures of threatened marine species.)
National Geographic asked Karl Mayer, a sea otter conservationist and one of Pup 's caretakers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, to tell us more about how to bring up an otter in captivity.
How did Pup become an orphan?
was stranded north of Santa Cruz, in an area [where sharks often eat otters]. Something could have happened to mom. [Or] mom could have been in pretty weak condition and couldn't care for her. We don't really know.
How's her condition in the video? Being a rescued, orphan pup, how does she compare with wild pups her age?
She's a little behind where you see wild pups. At five weeks old [her age in the video], wild pups are starting to be much more active in the water and are fully capable of swimming directionally. isn't quite there yet. (See cute pictures of sea otters in their native habitat.)
When we picked her up at a week old, she was in pretty good condition, healthy but underweight. She's still in very good condition, and starting the shedding process. Once a wild pup sheds her pup coat, she's a fully functional juvenile animal, capable of diving, retrieving food, and weaning herself off of formula. But those developmental milestones aren't as crucial to , because she'll probably be in captivity for the rest of her life.
Why is she squealing?
Sea otters have a range of sounds. They'll vocalize to indicate any kind of discomfort, when they're starting to get cold, prior to defecating, when you're grooming them. They'll also vocalize happy noises when they're relatively content. Here, she's probably indicating she's a little cold in the water.
When they put her in the water, are they teaching her to swim?
It's not so much "teaching." I would characterize it as encouraging to develop otter behavior. Human caretakers are not acting as role models, climbing into the pools and swimming with them, so much as trying to stimulate any kind of activity—prodding her, encouraging her.
In the wild, mom would be actively swimming around in the ocean. And they'll want to look for mom, and will go underwater to try to follow her. That developmental encouragement, you need to replace that. (Related: "Sea Otter Moms Risk Lives to Raise Babies.")
Around the minute mark, she's wiping her face. What's going on there?
That's basically an attempt at grooming—uncoordinated grooming. She hasn't developed the ability yet, but she's trying. That head shaking when she's up on the towel, we call that shimmying. It's another attempt at grooming.
So when they're drying her off, it's because she can't do it herself?
Right. In the wild, mom would be doing the bulk of the grooming. Maintaining fur quality is one of the most important tasks in rearing a pup. If you have residual wetness, the fur starts to clump and doesn't lie together properly. And that starts to affect the pup's development.
What are those purple straps, and why is she placed in them?
That purple stuff is the felt straps in [a] drive-through car wash that flops back and down to clean the windows. The nice thing about it is that it floats. In the ocean, kelp is anchored but floats up on the surface. Sea otters like to roll around in and fall asleep in [kelp]. So the purple felt acts as a proxy that mimics her natural environment. (Read about how sea otters may be helping to reduce carbon emissions.)
What are the next stages in her growing up?
Sea otters have a really long dependency period, [of] six months. The time line should coincide with the development period in the wild. At eight weeks old, she'll begin to seek solid food instead of formula.
What are some of the challenges human caretakers face in rearing a pup?
Initially, the biggest thing is adjusting to the new food—puppy formula. There's a fairly reasonable likelihood that mild bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other issues [will occur]. A [young pup] like who was with mom for a very short amount of time, her body probably lacks colostrum [a mammal milk that contains antibodies]. So she's more susceptible to things like gastrointestinal disorders and infections. (Also read about new diseases hitting sea otters in California.)
And there's also the development of mats in her fur, because she's incapable of grooming. Basically she's an uncomfortable, colicky infant.
And, as nearly three million YouTube viewers might agree, a darn cute one.
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