Discover the Adorable Sea Otter’s Natural Habitat

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, you can watch a live feed of sea otters. They float lazily next to artificial kelp, play with toys, and are unbearably cute. The resident sea otters named Ruby, Ivy, Kit, Rosa, and Selka were rescued as pups and are now a part of the Sea Otter Program.

Even though the aquarium makes an effort to mimic its native environment, it can’t compare to the vast ocean and the abundant kelp forests on the northern Pacific coastline. Continue reading if you’ve ever been curious about how sea otters live in the wild!

Do Sea Otters Only Live Where There Is Kelp?

Two sea otters floating among kelp and sea weed in the water's surface.

A sea otter cannot live without kelp but not because it is a part of its diet. This carnivore will not eat any vegetables! They are known to sometimes eat kelp or other seaweed if meaty food sources are hard to come by.

They also rely on the kelp to shield them from the powerful wind and waves that frequently occur in the ocean. They can only exist where there is kelp.

How Do Sea Otters And Kelp Forests Help Each Other?

You might be wondering why the Monterey Bay Aquarium needs artificial kelp. Is it just for the aesthetic benefit of visitors and live cam viewers?

The kelp and sea otters coexist symbiotically. This means that both species benefit from the ongoing interaction between these two. 

Sea otters benefit from kelp by:

  • Most of the seafood that sea otters consume is found in the kelp forests
  • They use kelp to wrap it around themselves or their pups while sleeping so they don’t drift away out into the ocean
  • Kelp transforms carbon dioxide into oxygen

Sea urchins eat kelp and when there are too many sea urchins, whole kelp forests can be decimated. It’s a good thing that sea otters like eating sea urchins. This way, their population is controlled and kelp forests are able to flourish. 

What Food Sources Are Necessary For The Sea Otter’s Habitat?

Sea otters eat a lot of food for their size – up to 25% of their body weight every day! They eat a variety of seafood such as crabs, mussels, abalones, and more exotic-sounding ones like sea urchins and sea stars. 

Sea otter floating on its back while eating a clam.

The sea otter catches their food in the kelp forests and rocky reefs where they live. This is why it’s critical to safeguard sea otters since they play an important part in maintaining the ecosystem’s balance.

What Kind Of Climate Do Sea Otters Prefer?

Raft of sea otters floating on their backs together with their heads and flippers out of the water while  looking curiously around.

Sea otters are physically adapted to withstand the cold waters of the north Pacific Ocean. Despite the lack of blubber, their fur is extremely thick and dense, with up to 1 million hairs per square inch.

The cold weather may be the main factor in their preference for the north Pacific coast. Sea otters don’t shed their fur like other animals do in the summer. It would be like wearing a heavy coat on a hot day!

Do Sea Otters Only Live In Cold Climates?

The physical characteristics of sea otters make them ideally adapted for cold climates, which may explain why they are only found where it is 50 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Compared to other parts of the US, California enjoys a milder climate and the waters where sea otters are found are cold enough for their food sources to live and thrive.

In addition to having thick fur, they can be warm and cozy in frigid weather due to their high metabolism. They consume a lot of food since it takes a lot of energy to maintain their metabolic needs.

Do Sea Otters Always Live In the Water?

Closeup of a sea otter swimming on its back.

The sea otter can spend its entire life in the ocean. However, they are quite capable of being on land. On occasion, they emerge from the water onto rocky ledges or secluded shores to rest or groom themselves. 

When they are at sea, sea otters are in their element. They have food, they know how to protect themselves, and they move more gracefully and quickly in the water than on land.

Are There Sea Otters That Never Go On Land?

It is possible for some sea otters to never go on land. They don’t really need to! The ocean has everything they need and they are adapted to live in it. 

Sea otters can live up to 15-20 years in the wild. That’s a long time to spend in the water!

How Far Out Into The Water Do Sea Otters Go?

Raft of sea otters floating together in a little fishing habor.

For an animal that spends most of its life in the ocean, it is natural to imagine that sea otters live far in the open water. In reality, they hang out near the coast, where the water is less than 100 feet deep.

It’s easier to catch their favorite seafood if they don’t have to dive too deep to catch it. In addition, kelp only grows in depths where the sunlight can reach it for photosynthesis.

Can Sea Otters Live In Fresh Water?

There are a couple of important reasons why it may be difficult for the sea otter to live in freshwater. 

Kelp is unable to live in freshwater. Sea otters have little use for the type of seaweed that grows in ponds or lakes.

Sea otters also rely on the ocean for their food. They can probably scrounge for some fish or the occasional crab in bodies of fresh water but it probably cannot support the amount of food sea otters eat.

Lastly, fresh water is already the domain of its smaller and more adapted cousin – the river otter!

Author: Mitzie C

Mitzie is a writer and animal welfare advocate. Her writing is inspired by her love for her rescue cats, Eddy and Dylan, and her rescue dogs, Cypher, Daegu and Holly. Follow her journey as she discovers her unique voice here in Floofmania and shares her insights on the importance of the animal kingdom.

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