For more than 40 years, the conservation status of sea otters remains unchanged. Their future remains uncertain. In the past several years, sea otter population growth has stalled. There are many hurdles for full population recovery. As of 2021, there are only about 3,000 southern sea otters left in the wild.
One of the reasons why sea otters are endangered animals is their fur. They have the densest fur of any mammal at about 1 million hairs per square inch. Just for comparison, we have 100,000 hairs on our entire head.
Wild sea otters live between 15 and 20 years. Commonly spotted during Alaska tours, they are one of the smallest marine mammals on Earth.
Here are a few interesting things to know about sea otters.
These animals can live their entire life without leaving the water. That makes them unique in the many different sea animals. They are the only marine mammal capable of flipping over boulders on the sea floor. They do this to search for food.
They are also the only marine mammal to catch fish with its forepaws and not its mouth.
Another reason why they can live so much in water without leaving the sea is their lung capacity. They have 2.5 times greater lung capacity than similar-size land mammals. They can stay submerged for more than 5 minutes at a time. You do not want to challenge them to a breath holding competition.
River otters can stay submerged even longer. They can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes. Their time underwater improves their opportunity to sense prey and forage for food.
Speaking of hunting and feeding, they are one of the few mammal species that use a tool to help them hunt and feed. These animals wedge a rock between its chest and the armpit of a foreleg and pounds shells against it to open them up.
The sea otter can also hammer rocks against strongly gripping abalone shells to pry them off of rocks.
As for their diet, they need to consume between 25% and 40% of their body weight daily. And that is just to keep them warn.
Their diet includes sea urchins, clams, mussels, crabs, and more. To find food, they dive as deep as 250 feet and will use their sensitive whiskers to locate small prey.
The sea otter has one of the densest fur among animals. But their fur is so precious. If their fur becomes dirty, the sea otter has trouble absorbing the air needed to keep it warm.
That is why they are obsessive about keeping their fur clean. They groom themselves non-stop when they are not eating or sleeping. If you have seen a sea otter in a zoo, you will notice they are constantly grooming.
And because of their precious fur, they are at even higher risk of death in their natural habitat. Oil spills affect sea otters more than any other marine animal. Oil coating their fur can lead to death by hypothermia.
Sea otters spend most of their day eating, sleeping, and grooming. But while they sleep, they are at risk from drifting apart while they snooze. So, they sleep holding paws.
More than 90% of the sea otters population lives in coastal Alaska. Many of them live in the waters surrounding public lands.
Like polar bears in the Arctic, sea otters are keystone species in their ecosystems. They affect great influence on their environment. For example, they eat sea urchins, which eat kelp in great abundance. Sea otters control urchins population, which is how they allow kelp forests to flourish.