Almost hunted to extinction for their thick, luxurious fur, the sea otter remains listed as threatened on the “Species at Risk” Act in Canada. The fact that their diet includes the northern abalone, a shellfish that has been over harvested resulting in the closing of the fishery, has not made the otter any more favorable to those who relied on the industry commercially. Re–introduced to Alaska and British Columbia, in particular Vancouver Island in the early 1970’s, the northern sea otter is now thought to have a population of 2500 to 5000. A species is considered endangered if their population numbers 2500 or less.
Besides abalone, the sea otter also enjoys eating mussels, crabs, clams, mollusks and crustaceans. They use tools to crack open their prey’s shells; this is rarely seen in the animal world and suggests a certain level of intelligence. It is quite common to see them feed while floating on their backs. Sea otters also like to anchor themselves on floating kelp to keep from drifting and occasionally do so in large groups, side by side, creating large rafts.
Sea otters are a keystone species; meaning they keep their environment balanced by keeping certain populations under control that would otherwise run amok and devastate the ecosystem. By keeping the sea urchin population in check they are preventing the loss of kelp forests that are imperative to a healthy coastal ecosystem.
Unlike the river otter, sea otters live mostly in the water. Their natural predators are primarily transient Orca and sea lions. Sea otters only live about 15 – 20 years. They weigh anywhere between 13 and 45 kg (30 – 100 lbs).
Like river otters, they have a special process in their reproductive system called delayed implantation, where the egg, once fertilized, enters a dormant stage and only develops once environmental conditions are favorable. Pregnancy then occurs with gestation lasting 4-5 months
To view these amazing animals in their natural habitat and in a non-intrusive way is best done by sea kayak. For more information or to book a sea otter kayak tour, please contact North Island Kayak at firstname.lastname@example.org , visit their website at www.kayakbc.ca
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