Sea Otter photos
The sea otter (Enhydra lutris) lives in shallow water areas along the shores of the North Pacific. Its range once extended from southern California north then west through the Aleutian Islands, to the Kamchatka Peninsula, and south to the northern islands of Japan. The sea otter photos shown here were taken in southcentral Alaska, primarily in the Prince William Sound region. All photographs on this site are available for purchase as commercial stock photography or fine art display pictures for home or office.
Sea otters are members of the weasel family (Mustelidae) and are related to mink and river otters. Adult males weight 70 to 90 pounds (32-41 kg) with some individuals weighing 100 pounds. Females average 40 to 60 pounds (18-27 kg). Adults reach a length of 4.5 feet (1.4 m). On land their gait is clumsy. Probably because of this vulnerability, they are seldom found more than a few yards from water.
The fur, which is possibly the finest in the world, consists of a very dense underfur of inch-long fibers and sparse guard hairs. The underfur ranges from brown to almost black. Guard hairs may be black, pale brown, or silver, often giving a veiled effect of silvery hairs on a dark background.
Unlike seals, which rely on a heavy layer of blubber for protection against the cold North Pacific waters, sea otters depend on air trapped in their fur for maintaining body temperature. If the fur becomes soiled or matted by material such as oil, the insulation qualities are lost. This results in loss of body heat and eventual death. For this reason, otters spend much time grooming their fur to keep it clean.
Sea otters mate at all times of the year, and young may be born in any season. However, in Alaska most pups are born in late spring. Like other marine mammals, they have only one pup during each breeding cycle. The pup may weigh 30 pounds (14 kg) when weaned and looks almost as big as its mother. Females can produce one pup a year, but in areas where food is limited, they may produce pups every other year.
Sea otters usually do not migrate. They seldom travel far unless an area has become overpopulated and food is scarce. Breeding males will drive nonbreeding males out of areas where females are concentrated. In some areas, the nonbreeding males will concentrate in “male areas” which are usually off exposed points of land where shallow water extends offshore. Bald eagles prey on newborn pups and killer whales may take a few adults, but predation is probably insignificant. Many sea otters live for 15 to 20 years.
Sea urchins, crabs, clams, mussels, octopus, other marine invertebrates, and fishes make up the normal diet of sea otters. They usually dive to the bottom in 5 to 250 feet of water and return with several pieces of food, roll on their backs, place the food on their chests and eat it piece by piece using their forepaws and sometimes a rock to crack shells.
Feeding dives generally last less than one minute although some otters are capable of staying underwater for five minutes or more. Captive animals require a daily food intake equal to one-quarter of their body weight. In order to obtain the 8 to 15 pounds (4-7 kg) of solid food needed, an otter may have to bring up 40 to 50 pounds (18-23 kg) of whole shellfish. Their feeling habits may result in conflicts with subsistence, recreational, and commercial fishers when otters move into areas that support important shellfish resources.
Text: Karl Schneider, Revised and reprinted 1994, adapted from ADF&G Wildlife Notebook Series:
State of Alaska Fish and Game notebook series