Wild Profile: Meet the sea otter

An adult sea otter floating on its back in the ocean Stephen Hamaday/Shutterstock

The Pacific Ocean’s sea otter is way cooler than its semiaquatic cousin, the river otter. Or no, maybe it’s warmer. Sea otters have the distinction of being the North American mammal with the thickest fur of all—one million hairs covering every inch of their bodies. Why? Unlike a sea lion or a walrus, a sea otter has very little blubber, that crucial layer of cushy fat designed to keep a body toasty in the coldest of waters.

Sea otter vs. river otter

No surprise: sea otters and river otters are very similar. But if you were to see them side-by-side, you could clearly spot the differences. Sea otters are much larger—think, up to 100 pounds compared to a river otter’s measly 30. Check out the tails. A sea otter’s tail is short and flat; a river otter’s? Long and pointed. And then there’s the fur. A sea otter is covered with a dense layer that fades to tan on the face and throat. River otters, on the other hand, tend to be dark brown all over.

The sea otter is aquatic, not semiaquatic. It can spend its entire life in the water, foraging for kelp-eating sea urchins and other slow-moving ocean creatures. Sea otters even sleep in the water, floating on their backs and holding each other’s hands—er, paws—to keep from drifting apart. Adorbs!

Is the sea otter endangered?

Canada’s population is happily in slightly better shape than sea otters worldwide. B.C.’s otters were declared extinct in 1929 (because of overhunting for the fur trade). Since this marine mammal is considered a keystone species, vital to the kelp forest ecosystem, the B.C. government reintroduced 89 otters into Checleset Bay in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Now, their numbers have surpassed 6,500. Consequently, in Canada, the species is listed as Special Concern—not great, but better than Endangered.

Is the otter the most Canadian of all animals?

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