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Georgia-Pacific Cold Water Quest

Southern sea otter

Southern sea otter

(Enhydra lutris)

Sea otters are found along coast of the northern Pacific Ocean and the southern Bering Sea and are considered to be three separate populations centered in Russia, Alaska and California. The population of southern sea otters inhabits the central California coast. They live in coastal waters with rocky or muddy substrate and among kelp beds. They venture onto land very infrequently.

The sea otter preys on a variety of organisms including sea urchins, snails, crabs, scallops, fish and squid, which it captures with its front paws, not its jaws. Individual otters must eat 20 percent of their body weight every day to maintain their body temperature in the cold sea, so they spend much of the day hunting. The sea otter is one of the few mammals known to use tools. It picks up rocks from the ocean floor to break open the shells of urchins, crabs or clams while balancing them on its chest and stomach as it floats on its back at the surface.

See the southern sea otters in the Georgia-Pacific Cold Water Quest gallery.

Fun Facts

  • The sea otter sleeps on its back while floating on the sea surface and wraps itself with kelp to keep from drifting away.
  • This otter’s coat has pockets made of flaps of skin under each front leg, which it uses to stash prey during a dive, leaving its paws free to continue to hunt.
  • The fur of the sea otter is the densest of all mammals, with up to 1,000,000 hairs per square inch.
  • To keep its luxurious coat waterproof, this otter spends many hours cleaning and grooming itself.
  • The southern sea otter usually can stay submerged for up to 90 seconds, although dives of over four minutes have been observed.
  • Download full fact sheet

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