By Blane Perun
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The Enhydra lutris, also known as the sea otter, is found on the North Pacific Ocean in the north and the east. This marine mammal is a member of the weasel family. The sea otter typically weighs between 30 and 100 pounds. That makes the sea otter the heaviest of all weasels yet they are some of the smallest of the marine mammals.
The sea otter lives in very cold climates, but stays warm thanks to its thick fur coat. The sea other has the most dense fur coat of all animals, which means it stays quite warm even in frigid temperatures. The sea otter is incredible because it can live entirely in the ocean if necessary, although it is capable of walking on land and spending time there, too.
The sea otter lives in environments that are close to the shore. The reason for this is so the sea otter can dive to the ocean floor quickly to find food. The food the sea otter preys upon includes fish, mollusks, sea urchins, and crustaceans. The sea otter is a capable forager because it uses rocks to dislodge mollusks and crustaceans as well as to open them. This is noteworthy because very few mammals use tools to eat, and the sea otter is one of them. Another fact about the sea otter is that it controls the sea urchin population. Doing this helps maintain the kelp forest ecosystem. The sea otter is in direct competition with fisheries for fish, crustaceans, and other mollusks.
The sea otter was practically extinct in the early 1900s after being hunted for hundreds of years for its fur. A ban was placed on hunting the sea otter and its population has rebounded significantly as a result. The sea otter number reached up to 300,000 at one time, but after conservation efforts, it has reached approximately 2/3 of this original number. Regaining the sea otter population is an important sign that sea otter marine conservation is working. However, the sea otter is still considered an endangered species because it remains at depressed levels in several sea otter populations not to mention its vulnerability to oil spills.
The sea otter was originally named the Lutra marina and changed names several times over the years. The sea otter was first recorded in Georg Steller’s field notes in 1751, so the sea otter has been around quite some time. In 1922, after various names, the name Enhydra lutris was agreed upon as the name for the sea otter. The word “enhydra” is derived from Greek and means en “in” and hydra “water”. This translates to “in the water”. The word “lutris” simply means “otter”.
The sea otter can live in the water at any point in its life from birth until death. Within the sea otter’s family Mustelidae are other marine species of otters and animals that live on land. Some of these include minks, badgers, and weasels. Although the sea otter is a relatively new marine mammal lineage, the sea otter can live in the ocean at all stages of life. The sea otter originally came from Russia and then gradually moved east to the Aleutian Islands, then to Alaska, and finally into North America.