The sea otter is an almost exclusively marine animal, spending little time ashore. Its fur is thick and glossy and ranges in colour from black to dark brown, with some white tipped hairs.

Sea Otter Life

The sea otter is an almost exclusively marine animal, spending little time ashore. Its fur is thick and glossy and ranges in colour from black to dark brown, with some white tipped hairs. The large, blunt head, throat and chest are all creamy white. Its ears are almost hidden in its fur and its eyes are small. Sea otters are propelled through the water using their long, well-defined flipper-like hind feet. The forelegs are comparatively small, with five-fingered forepaws, which are used to grasp shell fish and other prey.

The sea otter is the only carnivore to have four incisor teeth in its lower jaw. These are used to break open the shells of crabs, sea urchins and other shellfish.

It is also unusual in that it has no layer of fat or blubber under the skin. Instead, air trapped inside the thick fur provides insulation and prevents excessive heat loss. Up to 10% of a sea otter's life is occupied with the cleaning and grooming of its fur. If the fur is damaged or polluted with oil, it loses its effectiveness, so the sea otter may die from cold and exposure.

Their luxurious coats brought sea otters to the brink of extinction. Killer whales and sharks are their natural predators, but humans have proved to be by far their biggest enemies. In the 18th century they were mercilessly exploited by European fur hunters until only a few were left.

Stories are told of how sea otters nuzzled hunters who were about to club them to death, and of others who on seeing hunters' guns trained on them, turned their backs and covered their eyes with their forepaws. By the beginning of the last century, sea otters were so rare that pelts could fetch $1000 each.

Fortunately though, the American government passed a law in 1910 prohibiting the capture of sea otters in American waters. By 1911 other governments had also brought in legal protection for sea otters. By this time the sea otter population was down to about 1,000 worldwide. Now the population has risen to over 130,000, but sea otters still only occupy one-fifth of their original range, with colonies in California, western Alaska, and the Commander and Kurile Islands north of Japan.

If it were not for government protection it almost certainly would have become extinct. Though with it's population still decreasing it is doubtful whether the sea otter will ever reoccupy its full range and it is still classified as endangered by the IUCN.

Read More: Sea Otter Habits

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