September 24 to 30 is Sea Otter Awareness Week. Otters are adorable and easy to love. My dear friend Sherry and I have bonded over otters in a big way. My teen adores them as well – they’re her favorites at the Shedd Aquarium. We love watching them there and learning about these amazing creatures. Here are some fun facts about sea otters.
* Sea otters are a federally protected endangered species. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies them as “endangered.” Their numbers were once close to 300,000, but hunters pursued them for their pelts. They rebounded in the 20th century, and hopefully will continue to make progress in the 21st century. They are doing particularly well in the Bering Sea and Alaska.
* Sea otters are considered keystone species in their ecosystems. That because of the impactful way they influence their environments. One way is that they dine on sea urchins. Sea urchins like kelp and the way the otters keep the sea urchins population in check makes it possible for kelp forests to flourish. That’s good for other species who rely on kelp.
* The scientific name for sea otters is Enhydra lutris.
* They are the largest member of the weasel family, but they’re also the smallest of the marine mammals.
* Sea otters are the only marine mammals without insulating blubber.
* Sea otters need to eat a lot—25 percent of their body weight daily—to stoke their high metabolisms and stay warm in icy waters.
* Otters hold paws, but they do so for reasons other than just being adorable. It helps keep from drifting apart while they sleep.
Sea otters use tools to help them hunt food, and they are one of only a few mammal species to do so. They pound shells against a rock to open them, and they also hammer rocks against abalone shells to get to the meat inside.
* They migrated on rafts, but they don’t go far. Rafts usually carry members of a single sex and some can hold as many as 1,000 otter passengers.
* Sea otters groom themselves all the time because it keeps their fur clean. If their fir gets dirty, it cannot absorb the air that keeps them warm. That’s also why oil spills are so detrimental to sea otters – if oil coats their fur, they can die from hypothermia.
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