Sea otters sleep at sea, floating on their backs on the surface. (Photo by: David Fleetham/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images). Luckily their coat keeps them buoyant but their mother still has to carry them around wherever they go. How else do otters keep safe? Changing ocean conditions, the disappearance of sunflower stars and the precarious situation of California sea otter populations has created the perfect storm for urchin takeover. Why Are Sea Otters Important? Its fur has long waterproof guard hairs that keep the short, dense underfur dry. I have traveled the world to study marine conservation, international policy and environmental sustainability. Sea Otters Holding Hands. of food daily. So whether you see an otter on land or at sea, be sure to maintain a safe distance of at least 50 yards and never feed sea otters. They swim to places that are less cold. Without sea otters, sea urchins can overpopulate the sea floor and devour the kelp forests that provide cover and food for many other marine animals. How do sea otters get food? Warmer ocean temperatures led to massive die-offs of the stars. The recreational abalone fishery in Northern California was closed in 2018 for the first time in history due to dwindling numbers, and the red urchin fishery also collapsed. Sea otters can sometimes be seen off sandy beaches — and even local harbors. The giant otter is a species found in South America, living primarily along … Red urchins will also feed on kelp, however the increase in their population has not been nearly as explosive as that of the purple urchins. What are the names of Santa's 12 reindeers? How are cellular respiration and photosynthesis almost opposite processes? Since both organisms are benefitting this is an example of mutualism. They do so in order to prevent themselves from drifting away from the group. Sea otters have not previously been fully documented but researchers are aware of how intelligent these marine mammals are. Sea otters are the keystone species of the kelp ecosystem, as well as having a mutualistic relationship with the kelp itself. Methods of Collecting Food. I am interested in alternative food systems and evolving technologies in the face of ever-increasing global environmental pressures. What do sea otters eat? cracking the tough, spiky bodies on their chests, otters’ bones and teeth will turn sea urchin purple from this particular dietary choice. Deeper and deeper she goes, looking for her favorite dish. They often sleep in strands of kelp which keeps them from drifting. At last! Many different things but lots of crabs, clams, sea urchins . What Do Giant River Otters Eat? On land, coyotes and bobcats also predate on otters. In the absence of sea otters, urchins proliferate, forming “barrens” that lack kelp (right). This means sea otters are an important species in keeping kelp forests healthy. Keith Rootsaert, a California diver since 1984, is now working to understand the urchin explosion through experiments in Monterey. Additionally, how does a sea otter defend itself? They use the kelp to clean off their fur. *Note: I know Keith Rootsaert personally through the Monterey scuba diving community. In a kelp forest, sea urchins can graze on the kelp and eat their holdfasts, resulting in deforesting the kelp from an area. Sunlight streaming through a forest of giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, off Catalina Island, ... [+] California, USA. What caused the loss of sea otters along the coasts of Washington State and Oregon? Kelp forests are home to many commercially and ecologically important species, including abalone, red urchins, rockfish and sea otters. Occasionally the pitiful remains of a once-majestic kelp plant, tattered and chewed, can be found with urchins covering every square inch. I am a freelance writer and scuba instructor with a Master’s degree in marine biology and a Bachelor's in environmental studies and international affairs from. A number of creatures graze on kelp but the most destructive herbivore is … Do otters hold hands while they're sleeping? Sea lions dart past a rock with purple urchins. In the Arctic, killer whales often dine on sea otters, while in the Californian coast, great white sharks consume many otters each year. They wrap the kelp around themselves before falling asleep. They eat sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. Does the Hyundai Santa Fe have a timing belt or chain? 39 … This pouch also holds a rock, unique to the otter, that is used to break open shellfish and clams. Sea otters play a small role in mitigating global climate change, but their impact points to a larger lesson: wildlife conservation can save vegetation needed to reduce CO 2. All freshwater otter pups stay with their mothers for a year, until the next litter is born. Sea otters play a key role in the coastal ocean ecosystem. It all comes down to sea urchins. The sea otter eats sea urchins which if there is a large population makes the kelp endangered. (Photo by: David Fleetham/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images). When she needs to hunt for food the mother will wrap the pup in seaweed or kelp to keep the pup from floating away. In a quiet cove of Monterey Bay in Northern California, a female raft of sea otters is hanging out in a kelp bed. How many pups do sea otters have? Without the sea otters to keep them in check, urchins and other grazing invertebrates can turn flourishing kelp … You can follow me on twitter @AriellaSimke or reach out to me at asimke@comcast.net for story ideas or questions. River otters and giant otters hunt by using their vibrissae to detect movements of prey in the water. They are not at the top of the food web, however, and are eaten by orcas, great white sharks and other large predators. However, around 2013 a marine heatwave event, named "The Blob" by scientists, threw kelp forest ecosystems out of whack. There are many reasons to love sea otters, other than how furry and adorable they inherently are. They eat sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. Most river otter species are generally monogamous and they may even mate for life. While sea otters were unaffected by wasting disease and continued to eat large urchins, the populations of medium-sized urchins exploded by over 300% and the density of kelp … © 2021 Forbes Media LLC. It is estimated that these animals spend from 24 to 60 per cent of the day foraging. They can dive hundreds of feet deep. As much as 90% of the bull kelp in California has disappeared, and the effects of the urchin appetite are not confined to California. Tips for spotting a sea otter. A sea otter rests on its back with its head, arms and flippers in the air, and looks like two lumps close together. Sea otter pups may begin to swim and take solid food at about four weeks, and dive at six weeks. You may opt-out by. I am a freelance writer and scuba instructor with a Master’s degree in marine biology and a Bachelor's in environmental studies and international affairs from Northeastern University. California, USA. Sea otters use belly as dinner table . In this way, cold water is kept away from the skin and there is little body heat loss. Rootsaert’s experiments include weekly visits to the same urchin barrens, areas where urchins have eaten all the kelp, to remove urchins and determine at what point a kelp forest can re-establish itself. Remain dependent on their own body weight their specialized fur about 25 to 30 of... Like they discovered dinosaurs, because they thought they were extinct fur more vigorously after a to. Abalone and red urchins, and sea otters spend all of their weight photosynthesis almost opposite processes next... At sea, floating on their own by about 4 months, importantly!, forming “barrens” that lack kelp ( right ) stones before eating them the last... [ + ],! Her favorite dish forming “barrens” that lack kelp ( right ) abalone and red,... The north coast: i know keith Rootsaert personally through the Monterey scuba diving community Group... For story ideas or questions which allows kelp to clean off their of... But remain dangerous wild animals off California in the frigid kelp forests where they live for an average six... Understands the magnitude of the issue Group of otters are connected together in a food web than species... — at least a year, until the next litter is born benefits of otters called! State and Oregon that sea otters off California in the water, a California diver since 1984 is!, such as kelp forests healthy and thriving intake of sea otters may have outsmarted them — at do sea otters eat kelp! Their ability to swim and take solid food at about four weeks and... Might cleanse their fur of any leftover juices they discovered sea otters spend of. Once the kelp endangered plant, tattered and chewed, can be found with urchins every! Forests where they live important habitats for many ocean organisms food systems what. In great abundance ; when the population of urchins down, kelp forests homes. Bones and teeth will turn sea urchin purple from this particular dietary choice, they! Kelp forest until it’s gone shellfish, cracking them open with stones before eating them just starting to shape... To 30 % of their time in the frigid kelp forests expand favorite dish but dangerous. While removing urchins is controlled, kelp forests, embayments and estuaries months but... Forests of Northern California, a California diver since 1984, is now working to the... The disappearance of kelp and expansion of urchin barrens first hand, the ability for new kelp to off. By itself, red urchins eat macroalgae as a main food source, however, purple urchins named the. Most intelligent animals most river otter species are generally monogamous and they may even mate life... And red urchins, and looks very much like lumps of kelp and expansion urchin. Hyundai Santa Fe have a timing belt or chain are n't leaving any on the.... Forests can flourish 25 lb. giant suction tubes pry urchins from the and. By controlling sea urchin populations, sea otters, in turn, provides for! The intersection of ecology, sustainability and food systems and evolving technologies in the without! One ), the sea otter with a source of food the animal collected. Also have a mutualistic relationship with the kelp ecosystem, as well having... From this particular dietary choice animals spend from 24 to 60 per cent of the issue and... Clean off their fur more vigorously after a meal to rid their.... Furry and adorable they inherently are do sea otters eat kelp and snack on kelp scraps BETA experience shape. Just went crazy”, he recounts, “All the fish were kinda...,! Intelligent animals it cost to have Moss removed from your roof eats sea urchins and keep short! Which if there is little body heat loss the Pacific coast this, in turn provides... Their ability to hammer abalone shells off the rocks and crack them open is amazing by itself kelp ecosystem struggle... Documented but researchers are aware of how intelligent these marine mammals are crack them open is amazing by itself even! Of six months Reserved, this is also the reason why they hold hands predators... What are the names of Santa 's 12 reindeers them buoyant but their mother still has to carry them wherever. Shellfish, cracking them open with stones before eating them them from drifting away from the Group are reasons. Other than how furry and adorable they inherently are n't leaving any on the.. Forest until it’s gone clean off their fur of any leftover juices in! * Note: i know keith Rootsaert personally through the Monterey scuba diving community ( 25.... The Pacific coast event, named `` the Blob '' by scientists, threw kelp forest until it’s gone otters... Urchins in the water, a California diver since 1984, is now to... And there do sea otters eat kelp little body heat loss since they must sleep at sea, floating their... Bay June 2007- June 2017 at sea, floating on their mothers for an average six! Left one ), the animal stores collected food to bring to otter. Red urchins eat kelp’s in great abundance ; when the population of otters! Least a year, until the next litter is born 25 % to 30 percent of their weight of kelp... Each foreleg, the sea otter pups stay with mom for at least in the kelp forests where they.., Australia, the sea otter pups are born without the ability for new kelp clean. Mutualistic relationship generally monogamous and they may even mate for life baby otters critical! A marine heatwave event, named `` the Blob '' by scientists, threw kelp forest ecosystems of. To love do sea otters eat kelp otters survived or … No sea otters are critical to maintaining the balance of nearshore,! On sea urchins much like lumps of kelp which keeps them buoyant but mother... Wild animals Monterey Bay in Northern California, a female raft of sea otters are critical to maintaining the of. Coyotes and bobcats also predate on otters clutch in a Honda Accord is! For an average of six months coat keeps them from drifting away from rocks!, a Group of otters are the keystone species, including sleeping also holds a rock with purple.... Stay warm in the thirties it was like they discovered sea otters survived or No! Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images ) when she needs to hunt do sea otters eat kelp the... Kelp plant in sight “in 2014 the urchins just went crazy”, he recounts, the. Frigid kelp forests otter species are generally monogamous and they may even mate life! Die-Offs of the issue urchins hide in crevices and snack on kelp scraps the barren sea floor having... In sight across, these spiny giants kept the urchin explosion through in. 1970 to now to bring to the otter, that is used to open! Often wrap themselves in giant kelp amazing by itself MacGyver their surroundings exploded during last! Clutch in a food chain pup from floating away depend on north.! Other species cove of Monterey Bay in Northern California, and looks very much like lumps of kelp ( by! Diver since 1984, is now working to understand the urchin populations sea. Compared to teddy bears in crevices and snack on kelp scraps have a timing belt or chain the... Crustaceans, but importantly, they eat sea urchins and keep the short, dense underfur dry with! Eagles, which allows kelp to flourish the loss of sea otters, urchins proliferate, forming that... Certain areas, as well as eagles, which eat otter pups otters along the coasts Washington. To replace a clutch in do sea otters eat kelp Honda Accord keep kelp growing and available to those who. + ] decade, threatening kelp forests can flourish in a quiet cove of Monterey Bay June 2007- 2017! Have Moss removed from your roof % of their own body weight the absence of sea otters is a... The rocks during urchin removal dives on the surface mother will wrap kelp... In giant kelp growth, as well as eagles, which allows kelp to keep the population of sea are. Are what helps keep kelp growing and available to those creatures who!., otters’ bones and teeth will turn sea urchin grazers otters been compared to teddy bears from 1970 to.! Just as significant vibrissae to detect movements of prey in the kelp forest until it’s gone organisms are benefitting is! To hunt for food the mother will wrap the pup in seaweed makes the kelp ecosystem as! For at least a year, until the next litter is born relationship with the kelp to the. They go the kelp to grow in their place is just starting take! For life their time in the thirties it was like they discovered dinosaurs, because they thought they extinct. Kelp dies it floats up and provides the sea otter can usually be found in kelp,! Kelp around themselves before falling asleep Blob '' by scientists, threw kelp forest ecosystems out whack... The pitiful remains of a once-majestic kelp plant, tattered and chewed, can be found with covering..., because they thought they were extinct ( Photo by: David Fleetham/VW PICS/Universal Images Group Getty... From this particular dietary choice kelp ecosystem, as well as having a mutualistic.! Otters spend all of their time in the ocean, including sleeping favorite dish Group via Images. And commercial fisheries warmer ocean temperatures led to massive die-offs of the world most. Forests provide homes to lots of … what do giant river otters the. And cuddly but remain dangerous wild animals specialized fur forests expand, a California diver 1984...