Northern sea otter
Habitat and Distribution: Found in rocky coastal areas in shallow waters off Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, the Commander Islands, the northwestern coast of Vancouver Island, and Washington.
Size: About 4 feet long including the tail; 30-100 pounds. Males are larger than females.
Wild Diet: Fish, sea urchins, crabs, clams, mussels, snails, squid, octopus, and abalone.
Predators: Sharks, killer whales, eagles, sea lions, coyotes, and humans
Life Span: 15-25 years
Reproduction: Females usually give birth to one pup every other year after a gestation period of about 6 months. Newborn pups weigh 3-5 pounds and receive several months of maternal care. While a mother is foraging, she may wrap her pup in kelp at the water’s surface to keep it from drifting away.Behavior: Northern sea otters are social animals. They live in groups of 20-100 called “rafts”. These groups are sexually segregated; females avoid males except to mate. Northern sea otters communicate with a variety of vocalizations including squeals, screams, coos, grunts, snarls, and growls. They spend most of their day searching for food or grooming their fur to keep it waterproof.
IUCN Status: Endangered
Northern sea otters have historically been hunted for their dense, waterproof fur. They came close to extinction at the turn of the 20th century but are now protected by the International Fur Seal Treaty and the US Marine Mammal Protection Act. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil spill killed about 5,000 sea otters. They are also threatened by parasites and infectious diseases, thought to reach the ocean via storm drain runoff.
Nellie Stacks Cups
Nellie is a well-trained sea otter at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Watch her practice a special cup stacking enrichment and demonstrate trained behaviors with her pal, Abra.
Did you know?
- Northern sea otters open shells by holding a flat rock on their chest and beating the shells against the rock until they break open.
- Northern sea otters protect the kelp forest by preying on sea urchins that would otherwise overgraze the kelp.
- Sea otters need to eat about 25% of their body weight every day.