Sea Otters

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*turns on adorable animal feeds and gives you soft pillows and blankets*

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the last week of september is sea otter awareness weekwhere most marine mammals rely on a layer of insulating blubber to keep warm in the water, sea otters make use of their dense fur coat.

in fact, their fur is so thick and soft that for centuries humans have hunted the animal. by 1929, sea otters had been virtually eradicated from alaska to california. and while populations of the animal are currently making a remarkable comeback in british columbia, they nevertheless remain an endangered species.  

sea otters play a vital role in their aquatic ecosystem. in the absence of the animal, sea urchin populations explode, leading to the eradication of kelp forests, which in turn affects fish, sea birds and even eagle populations.

photos by tom and pat leeson (peekaboo otter), veronica craft (vogue otter), hal beral (sleepy otter), brian maxwell (cuddling albino otter), jeff foot (super excited screaming otter), matt maran (shouting otter), joe robertson (holding hands otters) and sharon landis (baby photo pose otter) suzi eszterhas (happy otter)

For several days this week, these two tiny sea otter siblings were floating around on their mom’s belly in Morro Bay, in central California. Alternately nursing and being groomed, or occasionally floating beside her, the little furballs are a rare pair: Roughly 2 percent of sea otter pregnancies result in the birth of more than one pup.

The odds that both will survive are even longer.

“We know it’s kind of inevitable. A mom cannot raise two pups,” said Michelle Staedler, sea otter research coordinator for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program.

Normally, sea otters only give birth to one pup at a time. The first twin otters (.pdf) were only reported in 1986. Now, this pair has brought scientists and photographers to the chilly Morro Bay waters, straining pairs of eyes hoping to glimpse and study the otters as they rest and float near the kelp forests.

“They’re pretty rare situations,” Staedler said. “This is the fourth one that I know of.”

[MORE: Tiny Sea Otter Siblings Fight the Odds]

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“Dear Sir,

I am very sorry but I am very mad about the oil spill. It is killing nature. And it is killing the sea otters. It makes me very sad because my class is doing a report on sea otters. And sea otters are cute. Sea otters are an endangered species. Please clean up the oil spill.

Sincerely,

Kelli Middlestead.
Mrs. Ashley - 2nd grade
Franklin School”

Letter from Kelli Middlestead from the Franklin School, Burlingame, California to Walter Stieglitz the Regional Director of the Alaska Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 04/13/1989

From the series: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Correspondence, 1989 - 1991. Records of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Twenty-five years ago today the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling over 250,000 barrels of crude oil and causing one of the worst oil spills and natural disasters in U.S. history.

This 2nd grade student’s letter to usfws is possibly our favorite record ever, but it’s especially bittersweet considering the magnitude of the disaster.

What are your memories of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill?

The squee heard ‘round the world!

As you probably know by now, a wild baby sea otter was born this morning in our Great Tide Pool! For the last several days, a wild female sea otter had been using the protected basin of our Great Tide Pool to rest from the winter storms. Last night, just as the Aquarium closed, she was spotted once again slinking into the pool for some shut-eye. It’s rare for a healthy sea otter to visit the pool so frequently—we started to wonder if she was doing all right.

Well, mystery solved! Around 8:30 a.m., Aquarium staff witnessed a BRAND NEW pup resting on her belly, being furiously groomed by a proud momma. We’re talking umbilical-chord-still-attached, whoa-is-that-yep-that’s-the-placenta new-born otter pup!

In steady waves, Aquarium staff, volunteers, and then the days’ visitors made their way to the back deck to watch a conservation success story taking place—and become fluffier in front of their eyes. Not that long ago, sea otters were hunted to near extinction. Maybe 50 were left in all of California by the early 1800’s. But now, thanks to legislative protection and a change of heart toward these furriest of sea creatures, the otter population has rebounded to steady levels in the Monterey Bay, and with 3,000 total in central California. 

We’ll keep you updated on this new otter family—mom may decide to head out any time. As of this writing though, she’s still grooming her pup and enjoying the comfort of our Great Tide Pool. The cute overload continues.

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What do you call a group of sea otters?

Sea otters often rest in groups called “rafts”. Rafting sea otters sometimes hold paws to stay together. Sea otters segregate by sex. Groups of females and their pups tend to stay in the centre of their range, territorial breeding males stay close to the female groups, and sub-adult male groups are seen on the outskirts of the range. These sub-adult males are the first to move into new areas when they become available. Male rafts are made up of all ages of males in non-breeding season. (Source)

Did you know that sea otters will sometimes hold hands when they sleep so they don’t drift away from each other?