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News Update

What Do Sea Otters Eat? And Other Otter Trivia

September 21, 2023
  • Species conservation
  • Natural history

You already know sea otters are cute and charismatic, but how well do you know your sea otter facts? From a sea otter’s diet and habitat to unique adaptations, take a deep dive into this trivia! Plus, see how you can be part of critical conservation efforts to protect these animals. 

Southern sea otters are a threatened species, so the survival of each individual otter is crucial to the future of this population. As the world’s largest marine mammal hospital, The Marine Mammal Center is able to take what we learn from the hundreds of animals we rescue each year to help us better understand how to protect our ocean and marine mammals like the southern sea otter.

Ready to put your knowledge to the test? Click “Show More” to reveal the answer and more facts about sea otters.

A southern sea otter eats a crab while floating in the water.
photo by Bill Hunnewell © The Marine Mammal Center / USFWS permit MA101713-1

What do sea otters eat?

As one of the few animals that use tools, sea otters mostly feed on shelled creatures like urchins, crabs, clams and abalone, using a rock to break them open. In a single day, they can eat 25 to 30 percent of their body weight! 

Did you know that a sea otter’s diet helps fight climate change? Sea otters are a keystone species, which means they are essential to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. As top predators, they help control populations of purple sea urchins—which are voracious kelp grazers—so that kelp forests can flourish. And not only do these thriving kelp forests provide habitat to other species, but they’re also very efficient in capturing carbon dioxide, which strengthens our natural defenses against climate change.  

You can give a current patient their next meal.

How many hairs per square inch does a sea otter have?

With nearly 1 million hairs per square inch, sea otters have the densest fur of any animal.  

Why do sea otters need so much fur? Without blubber to protect them from chilly ocean waters, they rely on this adaptation to keep warm and survive. In fact, sea otters have two layers of hair that trap air and keep their skin dry. But their fur loses its insulating qualities if exposed to oil, putting them at risk of oil spills. As part of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, our hospital acts as a primary response facility during a large spill to make second chances possible.  

Other threats sea otters face include infectious diseases and parasites, shark bites, maternal separation, boat strikes and entanglement. Thanks to support from people like you, our experts are providing life-saving care to southern sea otters and conducting vital research to better protect this threatened species.  

You can help the next otter in need when you adopt a past patient.

A sea otter floats in the water while grooming the fur on its face.
photo © Brian Simuro
A sea otter rests on the ocean surface surrounded by kelp.

Where do sea otters live?

The threatened population of about 3,000 southern sea otters can be found in nearshore waters along California’s central coast, from Half Moon Bay to Point Conception. There is a much larger population of sea otters in Alaska, and some still live in in Russia as well.

Before they were hunted to the brink of extinction for their luxurious fur, sea otters once lived along the entire North Pacific Rim from Japan to Baja California, Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently assessed the feasibility of reintroducing sea otters to their historical range in Northern California and Oregon. Not only is reintroduction biologically possible, but it may help the recovery of the threatened southern sea otter and restore vital kelp ecosystems—having a ripple effect that could benefit a variety of marine species and coastal communities. 

You can voice your opinions on the potential for sea otter reintroduction when you take Sea Otter Savvy’s We Were Here survey.

Yes, I want to save a life!

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species conservation
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Southern Sea Otter