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12 Facts About Otters for Sea Otter Awareness Week

Otters are some of the most adorable aquatic animals. Their charming features are unparalleled, from their expressions to their use of tools.

Held every year during the last week in September, Sea Otter Awareness Week spotlights the important role of sea otters in nearshore ecosystems of the North Pacific Ocean. Get ready for some awesome otter facts and photos. We promise that you’ll be otterly entertained!

1. Forget everything you thought you knew about otter species. Thirteen different species exist around the globe. The U.S. is home to two species: the sea otter and the North American river otter.  River otters are much smaller — averaging 10-30 pounds — with a cylindrical body and small head. Sea otters weigh more — around 45-90 pounds — with large, furry faces.

If this southern sea otter looks comfy, that’s because it’s settling down to rest in a small patch of Egregia (feather boa kelp) at Moss Landing in California. Photo by Lilian Carswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

2. Otters have some interesting relatives. Otters are part of the Mustelidae family, which is a family of carnivorous mammals that includes skunks, weasels, wolverines, and badgers. The sea otter is the largest member of the weasel family, yet the smallest marine mammal in North America.

A sea otter snoozes on its back — showing its hind legs, tail and webbed feet, which make otters great swimmers. Photo by Bob Winfree, National Park Service.

3. Most sea otters call Alaska home. Approximately 90 percent of the world’s sea otters live in coastal Alaska. Many live in the waters surrounding public lands including Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Glacier Bay National Park. Southern sea otters range along the mainland coastline of California from San Mateo County to Santa Barbara County, and San Nicolas Island.

Ain’t no party like a sea otter party! A group of otters stay together for mutual protection from predators in the waters around Moss Landing, California. Photo by Lilian Carswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

4. U.S. and international law protects threatened sea otters. Hunted to the edge of extinction by fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries, the few remaining sea otters (about 2,000 scattered in remnant colonies throughout the North Pacific rim) were first protected by the International Fur Seal Treaty in 1911. Sea otters in the United States received additional protections with the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s.

A rescued sea otter pup is taken to Alaska SeaLife Center to be treated. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

5. Sea otters eat 25 percent of their body weight in food every day. Sea otters’ diets include sea urchins, crabs, mussels, and clams, which they’re known to crack open with a rock and eat while floating in the water. To find food, sea otters may occasionally dive as deep as 250 feet and will use their sensitive whiskers to locate small prey inside crevices or their strong forepaws to dig for clams.

This sea otter decided on the all you can eat crab legs for its evening meal. Photo by David Ledig, Bureau of Land Management.

6. Sea otters have the thickest fur of any animal. Their fur contains between 600,000 to 1,000,000 hair follicles per square inch. Unlike most other marine mammals, otters lack a blubber layer. Instead, they depend on their dense, water-resistant fur to provide insulation. To keep warm, sea otters spend a large portion of their days grooming and conditioning their fur. This traps air and heat next to their skin.

A sea otter grooms itself to stay warm. Photo by Lilian Carswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

7. Sea otters can have a pup any time of the year. Southern sea otters breed and pup year-round, while northern sea otter pups in Alaska are usually born in the spring. A newborn pup needs constant attention and will stay with its mother for six months until it develops survival skills. Fun fact: An otter pup’s fur is so dense that it can’t dive underwater until it gets its adult fur. This comes in handy when mothers leave their pups safely floating on the water’s surface while they forage for food.

A mother sea otter carries her pup. Photo by Lilian Carswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

8. Don’t challenge otters to a breath holding competition. An otter’s lung capacity is 2.5 times greater than that of similar-sized land mammals. Sea otters have been known to stay submerged for more than 5 minutes at a time. River otters, however, can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes. The increased time underwater improves otters’ opportunity to sense prey and forage for food.

A sea otter floats and grooms in the waters at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska. Photo by the National Park Service.

9. Otters are an essential keystone species. A “keystone species” is a species that is critical to how an ecosystem functions because it has large-scale effects on the communities in which it lives. Along the Pacific coast, sea otters help control the sea urchin population. Fewer sea urchins in turn help prevent kelp forests from being overgrazed. In California, research has found that sea otters also enhance seagrass beds, and in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, sea otters’ expansion into the area marked a gradual return of a more diverse ecosystem and an exciting moment in colonization efforts.

By rubbing their flippers and forepaws simultaneously, sea otters increase the efficiency of a grooming session. Photo by Lilian Carswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

10. The otter is one of the few mammals that use tools. A sea otter’s tool of choice: typically a rock that can be used as a hammer or anvil to break open hard-shelled prey. Ever wonder where otters actually store these tools for safe keeping? They have a loose patch of skin under their armpit to store both the food they’ve foraged and their rock to crack it open.

An otter enjoys a snack of fresh mussels at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. Photo by Anne Langan, National Park Service.

11. A group of resting otters is called a raft. Otters love to rest in groups. Researchers have seen concentrations of over 1,000 otters floating together. To keep from drifting away from each other, sea otters will wrap themselves up in seaweed, forming something that resembles a raft.

A raft of otters resting in a group. Photo by Lilian Carswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

12. Otters might look soft and cuddly but remain dangerous wild animals. Otters have strong teeth and a powerful bite. So, whether you see an otter on land or at sea, be sure to maintain a safe distance of at least 5 kayak lengths or 60 feet from the otters. Learn more about staying safe around sea otters.

A sea otter in the Prince William Sound of Alaska, relaxes in a bed of kelp. Photo by Bill Tucker (

If an otter notices you, it probably means you’re too close. Make sure to take pictures from shore or at least 5 kayak lengths from the otters and always use your zoom. Love these fun otter facts? Check out this otter-worldly info.

what the animal looks like, where it lives and what this predator eats

Author Alexander Naydenov Reading 9 min Views 2.3k. Published

Otters are a subfamily of mammals from the order of predators of the weasel family. Animals lead a semi-aquatic lifestyle and are well adapted to a long stay in the water.


  1. Characteristics and description of the animal
  2. What the animal looks like

    Otters are very secretive, peaking between dusk and dawn. All night they search for prey, and during the daytime they sleep in burrows or in secluded places formed by coastal vegetation.

    Otter's paws are not adapted for burrowing, so it uses natural blurs or shelters abandoned by other animals. Sometimes the animals share the same dwelling with beavers.

    Among otters there are both nomadic individuals, constantly moving along water bodies, and territorial ones, having their own water hunting grounds. The larger the river and the richer the forage base, the less pronounced the boundaries of the plots

    Since otters are semi-aquatic animals, their structure has clear signs of adaptation to the environment:

    • the ability to change the degree of curvature of the eye lens ensures visual acuity in water and on land;
    • special partitions have been formed in the nostrils and auricles, which close when immersed in water;
    • Swimming membranes between fingers.

    An active metabolism helps maintain a constant body temperature in otters. In this regard, animals are forced to eat intensively, especially in winter. In order not to die from hypothermia, an adult must eat a day of food equal to a quarter of its own weight. To do this, otters have to hunt for 5-8 hours a day.

    Otters have a whole system of sounds to communicate with.

    What the animal looks like

    The appearance of the otter has the following features:

    • the body is elongated, streamlined, with a long muscular tail of a conical shape;
    • head small, slightly flattened in front;
    • small ears and eyes, large nose;
    • paws are short, with claws on the toes.

    Otters may be of a single color or with a darker back, dark, almost black paws and a light belly. In the color of the fur of otters there are gray and brown shades.

    Otter fur

    Properly dressed animal skins have the highest wear resistance score among all furs. It is believed that products made from otter can retain their original characteristics for 20 seasons of wear.

    When processing, all hard axial hair is removed from the skin, leaving only a soft water-repellent down. The darker the color of the fur, the higher the price of the product made from it.

    How many years live

    Wild otters rarely live past 10 years of age. Usually their average life expectancy in natural conditions is in the range of 6-8 years. Otter cubs most often die during the attack of enemies: wolves, foxes, bears, some species of large cats, birds of prey. The cause of death of the young may be the death of the mother, who feeds the cubs until the age of 12 months, and sometimes longer. Adult individuals most often become trophies of hunters. It is hunting for otters that is the main factor limiting their populations. Currently, most species are listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. In our country, the common otter is listed in 48 regional Red Books, and the Caucasian (one of its subspecies) is listed in the Red Book of Russia.

    The maximum lifespan of an otter in captivity is 15 years.

    Species of otters with photos and names

    The otter subfamily is represented by 6 genera and 13 species. Let's consider some of them in more detail.


    Also known as piston. The most numerous representative of the otters, inhabiting almost the entire territory of Europe, most of Central and Southeast Asia, and small territories in northwestern Africa.

    Common otters are solitary animals, only females with cubs can form groups.


    Inhabits the Amazon rainforest. The largest representative of the subfamily. Forms small groups of 5-8 individuals of different sexes. During the hunt, the flock acts in a coordinated manner, driving the prey towards each other.

    Watch this video on YouTube

    Due to massive deforestation and loss of natural habitat, the giant Brazilian otter is on the verge of extinction.


    Lives in southeast Asia. It has a lighter fur color. Sumatran otters are found in swampy forests and lower reaches of rivers, near mountain streams and lakes. Due to a sharp decline in numbers, the species was classified as endangered.


    Historical range of the species covered almost the entire North America. Currently, the animal has disappeared almost throughout the United States. During the winter months, Canadian otters make many kilometers of crossings in search of suitable water bodies for hunting.

    The male, like in most species, leaves the female after mating, but may join the family when the babies are 1.5 months old to help feed the offspring.

    Sea otter

    Large marine predator. It lives in shallow water, almost never going out on land. Due to a significant reduction in the population of the species, an international agreement was adopted to completely ban the hunting of sea otters. Limited production of the animal is allowed only to the native population of Alaska. 19 5

    Where they live

    Otter species are found on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. The largest number of species is distributed in such natural areas as taiga, mixed and broad-leaved forests, dry and humid tropical forests.

    Where they live

    Suitable habitat for the river otter - rivers and lakes located on the plains or in the mountains with clean water and sufficient food. It is more likely to find a predator's refuge in places with rapids, whirlpools, overgrown or littered with windbreak banks. Animals living in cold climatic zones select habitats near sections of rivers and lakes that do not freeze in winter.

    Sea otters prefer coastal areas with rocky shores and no signs of human presence.

    How they hibernate

    With the onset of cold weather, otters go in search of food mainly during daylight hours. For hunting, they choose areas of water bodies that are not covered with ice. If a thin layer of ice has formed on the surface of the water, the animal can break through it with its teeth. The animal pulls the caught fish onto the ice and eats it right near the shore or the edge of the polynya. The remains of carcasses not eaten by the otter help other medium-sized predators to survive.

    Since most of the river fish fall into suspended animation during the winter months, otters have to constantly move along water bodies in search of food. During the day they are able to overcome up to 10-15 km.

    see also:


    What they eat

    Otters are predatory mammals. They get almost all the food they eat from the water. In river and lake otters, the basis of the diet is fish weighing up to 200 g. They also eat river mollusks, caddisflies and their larvae. In the warm months, predators prey on small amphibians and reptiles, waterfowl rodents, and small water birds. Animals eat small prey right in the water, large fish are pulled ashore.

    Sea otters feed mainly on shellfish, sea urchins, and crabs. Only in some subspecies the content of fish in the diet reaches 20%. Animals hunt in shallow water. They hide all the prey they catch in a fold of skin under the front paw. When the fold is filled, the otter rises to the surface of the water, rolls over on its back and eats in turn everything that it manages to get. After each meal, the animal thoroughly rinses the fur, removing the remnants of food from the abdomen.

    Californian sea otters use a stone to break shells and shells, which is constantly kept in one of the folds: the animal places the stone on its abdomen and methodically hits it with prey until it breaks the protective shell.

    Watch this video on YouTube

    How to reproduce

    Otters become sexually mature at the age of 2-3 years. The breeding season occurs at different times depending on climatic conditions. Males may fight for the right to cover the female, but the fights are not aggressive and do not lead to significant injuries.

    Otters are characterized by a period of latent pregnancy, the duration of which reaches 9 months. Childbirth occurs 2 months after the start of embryo development. The female brings from 2 to 4 blind cubs. At the time of birth, they weigh about 100 grams. By the end of the first month of life, babies open their eyes, and their weight is 600-800 grams. By the age of three months, otter cubs go on their first hunt. At six months, young individuals are already completely independent, but continue to stay with their mother until 9-12 months.

    What is the difference between an otter and a muskrat

    A muskrat

    Both species of animals are somewhat similar in habits, as they spend most of their lives in water. At the same time, the otter and the muskrat are representatives of different orders and families. The muskrat is a rodent from the hamster family, and the otter is a predator from the weasel family.

    When comparing appearance, one can notice a significant difference in size: muskrats weigh no more than 1.8 kg with an average body length of 30 cm. In addition, the animals have a more compact body with a short neck and a bald thin tail.

    see also:


    Interesting facts about the otter

    • Otter Day is celebrated all over the world on the last Wednesday of May. The International Otter Survival Foundation initiated the need to draw attention to the conservation and protection of the animal. The deterioration of the ecological situation, the reduction of food resources and the hunting of animals for the sake of obtaining valuable fur have led to a significant reduction in the population of otters.
    • Captive otters play with rocks. This happens as follows: the animals pick up several stones in their paws and begin to move them, pressing them to the body. The researchers suggest that this is a kind of "pointless hunt" in anticipation of feeding.
    • Otters display their cubs at the moment of danger, thus trying to pity the enemy.
    • Otters do not have a subcutaneous fat layer. Protection from hypothermia is provided by a thick undercoat, the density of which reaches 110-125 thousand hairs per 1 sq. see To ensure that the coat is always clean and fluffy, the animals comb and smooth their fur for a long time, removing dirt and food debris.
    • Sea otters spend most of their lives in the water and do not come out to land even to sleep. They rest on their backs. The increased size of the lungs allows the animals to stay afloat. It is believed that sea otters hold on to their paws when they sleep to avoid being blown far out to sea.
    • Recently, more and more exotic animals are gaining popularity as pets. Otters, despite their quick learning and cute appearance, are completely unsuitable for keeping in a house or apartment. The best option would be to arrange an aviary with a house and a pool on the plot. The cost of an animal in the nursery is 2-4 thousand dollars.
    • The main purpose of hunting otters is fur. The meat of the animal has an unpleasant aftertaste of swamp mud, therefore it is not popular.

    Believe in yourself

    Otter as a pet - a true friend or an exotic fad?. Maintenance and care. Photo — Botanichka

    If you want to have an unusual pet, pay attention to the otter. With some effort, you can educate this animal in such a way that it becomes tame and can perform simple tricks. True, keeping an otter is not so easy - adults need at least 0.8-1 kg of food per day, most of which is fish and meat. In addition, in captivity, otters cannot live without a reservoir. Even the largest basin or bath will not suit them. They need a pool, and a big one. In general, an otter, as a pet, is an option only for owners of private houses. But even here there are nuances. Whether the otter, as a pet, is worth the effort that it requires for its maintenance, let's try to figure it out in the article.

    An otter as a pet - a true friend or an exotic fad?

    What are otters?

    Otters are aquatic predators whose diet consists mainly of fish and meat. These mammals belong to the weasel family. Therefore, it is not surprising that they also have an elongated flexible body.

    These animals are quite large. The length of the largest individuals can reach up to 95 cm, but on average it is 55–75 cm. The weight of adults is from 6 to 10 kg. Otters have swimming membranes on their paws, which allow these animals to move perfectly in the water. This is also facilitated by a tail of a special shape and a flat head.

    It's interesting to listen to how otters communicate. They make a wide range of sounds - they can chirp, yelp, squeak, and if frightened, they snort and hiss. If the otter decided to attack, then usually before that it howls loudly, this sound is similar to a cat's meow.

    There are several species of these animals in nature. But there are only two most suitable for home breeding: river or common otter ( Lutra lutra ) and Asian otter ( Aonyx cinereus ).

    River otter has another name for a piston. The second name of the Asian otter is the eastern clawless otter. This animal is smaller than the river otter, its length is about 60 cm. Round eyes add cuteness to the muzzle of this animal. Asian otters do not have claws, so in nature they live in abandoned burrows or dig their own dwellings in soft earth.

    Otters not only prefer to hunt and swim in the water, but they also sometimes rest here. To do this, smart animals spin around the algae several times, creating a kind of hammock out of them for relaxation and rest.

    These animals have excellent eyesight, smell and hearing, which allows them to hunt at night. In nature, otters have many temporary shelters, but there is one permanent one. In it they breed offspring.

    Wild adult otters cannot be tamed. Both for breeding and for keeping as a pet, small otters are purchased from reliable breeders. In nature, otters live for about 10 years, in zoos with good care - even more.

    Common otter (Lutra lutra). © Danner Møller PoulsenAsian otter (Aonyx cinereus). © Fiona Ruth Etkin

    Keeping an otter at home

    When this animal gets used to the owners, it becomes a true friend. But do not forget that otters are predators. Therefore, during games, the animal can bite a person “out of feelings”. At the same time, the manual animal is very affectionate. In these qualities, otters are similar to cats and dogs. And their little ones love to play with different objects like kittens or puppies. Together with a person, they will be happy to swim in the pool, amusing with their tricks.

    Interesting. Otters love gooseberries, so in the country you can pick these berries together with such an exotic pet.

    The main “but” in the story of keeping an otter as a pet in the house is the unpleasant smell that accompanies this whole process. Their litter, to put it mildly, smells ugly, and they go to the toilet much more often than dogs and cats. You can train a domestic otter to use the tray, but you will have to change it several times a day to get rid of the smell. In addition, otters mark their territory, and their secret also has a pungent odor.

    In general, it is ideal to keep otters in the utility rooms of private houses, as the house will not easily get rid of an unpleasant smell even if it is cleaned frequently. But in any dwelling, an otter needs a pool or other closed body of water where she can swim. Keep in mind that a house otter pond is fine, but its unconcrete banks are a great place to dig secret passages and dig. They can stretch for several kilometers. The otter may not come back to you.

    There are people who are not afraid of the smell of otters, succumbing to the influence of the fashion for exotic pets, they keep them in their living quarters. But the animal should live here only under the supervision of a person - the animal can gnaw on wires, pieces of furniture. Therefore, the otter should have its own room, where it will be when the owner is unable to look after his pet. Usually metal cages are used for this. They must be spacious. For one animal, you will need such a shelter, the length of which is not less than 1.5 m.

    Here you need to lay a blanket or mattress on which the animal will sleep. For small otters, they sometimes make a house out of a cardboard box. For larger ones, it should be made of a more durable material. A nipple drinker is fixed on the bars of the cage. Such an animal cannot be turned over, but if desired, it can drink.

    Otters should only be in the living quarters under human supervision. © AARON GEKOSKI

    Feeding otters

    Most of their diet is fish. Usually for these animals they get the most inexpensive, such as perch. Also sometimes otters are given a bird, Madagascar cockroaches. These animals also enjoy eating granulated cat food. But you need to give it very little and make sure that the otters always have water to drink.

    It is interesting to watch how these animals beg for food from the owner when he is cooking. What tricks the animal does not go to! He squeaks like a chicken, chirps, even brings his bowl to the owner to hint that it's time for dinner. Otters have excellent memories. These animals remember their name, run after the owner, like a dog or a cat.

    In general, keeping otters is very interesting, although troublesome. After all, there must be all the right conditions for this. First of all, the pool, as these predators need to swim. In addition, they mate in water.

    Read also our article Breeding chinchillas - for business and for the soul.

    Otter breeding

    This usually happens when the animals reach the age of 2-3 years. Otters mate in March-April. But in warm climates, they can do it almost all year round. Interestingly, the pregnancy of an otter consists of two stages. The first is approximately 270 days, called latent. And the otter carries the babies for 2 months. At one time, she can bring from one to 4 cubs. They are born blind, deaf, without teeth, covered with fluff.

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