Current Range of the California Otter
Sea otters in kelp
The Southern Sea Otter's live along 220 miles of the California coastline. They currently range from Ano Nuevo Point to Point Sal, however they once lived on along the Pacific coast from northern Japan to Baja California. The sea otters rarely travel more than 1.5 miles from the coast. Otters can often be found romping in thick slimy kelp beds.
The Kelp Forest
Kelp grows not far from the coastline and in waters about 20 to 60 feet deep. Like any plant, it needs light for photosynthesis to survive. Kelp is not found in still water bays because it needs wave action to aid in its reproduction.
Because they feel safe and can find food there, kelp beds become home to many otter families. In turn, the otters help keep the kelp bed alive by eating sea urchins. (An adult male may eat up to 50 urchins per day!) Sea urchins could demolish a kelp forest because they eat the base of young kelp. The otter, the urchin, and the kelp forest work together to provide an ecosystem that many animals depend on. After a long day of diving and feeding in the cold waters, sometimes the otters need a break. At times otters leave the kelp beds and venture off into the rocks and sandy beaches to sun themselves. This is called "hauling out.?
The males often tend to be a maximum of 48 inches and weigh 64 pounds. Females are a maximum of 48 inches and weigh 44 pounds. Their cousins the North American River Otters tend to weigh only half as much about 30 pounds.
Sea otters have the thickest fur out of all the animals in the world. There is about 350,000 to 1,000,000 hairs of fur per square inch, compared to a dog which only have 1,000 to 60,000 hairs per square inch. As a matter of fact, a penny placed on a sea otter's body would cover 250,000 hairs. That's more than the hairs on two human heads! They have two layers of fur surrounding their body. There is a thick layer against their skin. Another layer of longer hair grows out of the thick fur. They depend on their fur for warmth because they have no blubber like whales and seals. Their fur is usually brown in color. Sometimes the fur on their heads becomes white or golden because the sun bleaches it, like Goldie at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Do you spend eight hours a day in front of a mirror combing your hair? Well, otters spend eight hours a day grooming themselves. But, otters don't groom themselves just for looks. Actually they must groom themselves to stay alive. While grooming they rub and blow air into their fur creating air pockets in between the hairs of the outer layer. This technique provides insulation which keeps them warm in the cold waters. Without blubber, their fur is essential for survival.
Feet and Tail
Otters have small paws with retractable claws on their fore limbs to help them in grooming and eating. They also have secret pouches of loose skin under their forearms. This armpit area is used to store their tools (usually a rock) so they can have free "hands? while they are eating. It can also be used to transport food during diving. Their back feet or hind limbs have flipper-like feet which are used like flippers to aid them in swimming. While resting, otters keep their feet up out of the water. This helps conserve body heat because they have no fur on their feet which causes them to lose heat rapidly. Sea otters usually swim on their backs and paddle with their hind limbs. An otter's tail is 10-14 inches long. It is flat (different than a river otter's) to aid them in swimming.
The sea otters have very good sight above and below the water. An otter's lungs are bigger than any land animal of the same size. They can dive deeper because of their big lung capacity. Sea otters dive to hide from predators and to retrieve food. An otter has external ears and can hear very well. Their ears are protected by a flap of skin just inside the ear to stop water from going inside. Sea otters have a very good sense of smell. On our trip to Monterey our coach Mr.Rasner had to cleanse his shoes before being allowed by the trainers to enter the otters habitat area. An unfamiliar scent could make the otters frightened or feel threatened. They could try to hurt someone or quit eating.
Otters eat all kinds of slimy marine life such as clams, worms, fish, mollusks, octopus, mussels, sea urchins, crabs, and even snails. Each individual otter develops 2-3 preferences. For example one otter may like crabs and mollusks while another may like abalone and snails. Otters develop preferences to prevent competition for food between other otters.
Sea otters can dive up to 180 feet in search of food.. An otter uses it's nose and whiskers to help him in finding food and to detect vibrations under the water. They also use a pouch or flap of skin located under their forearm to store food until they get back home. Once in a while, otters have been spotted floating on their backs shaking an aluminum can because there was worms inside the can and they enjoy eating worms.
Eating and Drinking
Sea otters drink about one cup of salt water per day. They will eat almost anything that is available to them. The otters use their forelegs and paws to pry open food like abalone. Sharp teeth aid the otters in handling slippery food like squid. Sometimes an otter will lie on its back, take a rock and crack open a clam. Otters are one of the few animals who use tools to open up their food. In captivity trainers give otters blocks of ice with shrimp inside to keep them busy using tools. Some otters even stick their favorite tool in their armpit to save it for further use. A baby sea otter will be given milk by there mother. By the time they get 2 1/2 months old the go on dives with their mother for urchins crabs, and shellfish. Eventually baby otters will be taught to use tools. To maintain a normal body temperature, adult otters have to eat about 25% of their body weight per day. For an average adult male that would be about 50 sea urchins a day! For a 150 pound person, this would be the same as eating 160 quarter pound hamburgers.