A Gift from Nature

By Dave Hanks

Sea Otters, like all otters, are delightful creatures. We usually see them in a group off shore, out of range Ė oft-times entwined in beds of kelp. Seaweed keeps them from floating off. Iíve yearned to get close to them, without much success. It was a major surprise; when, after several aborted attempts, that we came upon a single. He was far from any group and was only ten feet from shore. He was definitely where he didnít belong. He had perfect trust in us. It was a gift from nature. It couldnít be anything else.

Sea Otters are brown and the older males have white faces. Males are also slightly larger than females. They have short tails and webbed feet Ė the back ones are flipper-like. Our Southern Sea Otter is found from Alaska to California, where they inhabit the coastlines within a mile of shore.

They spend their life at sea Ė eating, sleeping, mating, and even giving birth in the water. A new pup, two are rarely born, will ride on momís chest and will nurse up to a year before weaning. The female will make a cooing sound while she is nursing, and the babies will cry if they get separated from the group.

Most of their non-scavenging time is spent floating on their back, where they eat sea urchins, crabs, mussels, fish, and their favorite food Ė Abalone. A rock makes a handy tool to smash shells open to get at the meat. The prey is laid on their chest and then pounded with the rock. A 55 pound otter requires 13 pounds of food a day. Thatís 1/4th of its body weight.

Sea Otters can stand in water to scan for danger, which they do by shading their eyes with a paw, Alarmed, Mom will grab Junior and tuck him under one flipper and dive. They can remain submerged up to four to five minutes. Otter fur is the thickest in the mammal world. It keeps them warm and buoyant. When not eating or sleeping, they are always preening Ė looking as if they are constantly scrubbing face and body and then rolling over as if to rinse off.

(Coming upon this individual was indeed fortunate and Iím thankful for this gift from nature)