361. Point Lobos: Southern Sea Otter

Southern Sea Otter in a kelp bed

SOUTHERN SEA OTTER (361)

Possibly the most popular and certainly the most endearing animal at Point Lobos is the southern sea otter. Look for them floating “belly up” in the kelp beds where they spend much of their time. Some also have a habit of wrapping themselves in a “security blanket” of kelp while taking a nap.

Sea otters are smaller than harbor seals generally measuring about 4 ½ feet in length. Females are about 45 pounds and males are about 65 pounds. Unlike most other marine mammals, the sea otter does not have an insulating layer of fat. Instead they have thick fur that traps air bubbles next to their skin and a rapid metabolism to help them stay warm in the chilly ocean water. With a metabolic rate about two to three times higher than a land-based mammal of similar size, the adult sea otter will eat close to 25% of its body weight every day. Most otters tend to eat early in the morning and late in the afternoon, with each feeding lasting about 2-3 hours. They usually groom themselves following a meal, then rest in the kelp beds during the middle of the day in groups or “rafts” usually consisting of 2 to 12 otters.

While female sea otters can give birth any time of year, most pups are born between August and October. Weighing in at 3-5 pounds at birth, the pups have light brown fur which is very fluffy and keeps them floating like a cork on the water’s surface. During the 5 to 8 month period the mother sea otter cares of her baby, the two are rarely separated and the pup spends most of its time riding on the mother’s belly.