Sea otters have the thickest fur of any animal. They have 10 times as many hairs in one square inch as you have on your entire head! Their fur helps them stay warm in chilly water.
Where at the Zoo
Where in the World
Playful sea otters thrive in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean among some of the world’s richest fisheries. Their habitat includes kelp forests, beds of salt-water algae that provide rich habitat for other living things. Sea otters survive the cold and wet with dense fur and active lives fueled by large amounts of seafood. They are critical links that help to keep the ecosystem in balance.
Get Up Close To Our Playful Sea Otters with a Sea Otter Encounter.
What They Eat
Where They Live
What They Do
How They’re Doing
Where at the Zoo
Where in the World
Care at the Zoo
The sea otter habitat at the Zoo provides deep water to dive, coves, cutouts in the rock structure for animals that may want to be separate from the group, a large surface area for swimming, and ample space for the otters to rest on land. In addition to the public viewing area, the otters have three reserve pools behind the scenes. The salt water in which they swim is maintained at a cool 55–60 degrees F.
Keepers at the Minnesota Zoo strive to provide various forms of enrichment for the sea otters to keep them mentally active and physically healthy. Enrichment includes:
Training - We reinforce desirable behavior with rewards and ignore undesirable behavior. The training builds a positive relationship between the otters and the trainer. It provides positive activities for the otters, gives keepers a way to provide health care without stress, and offers zoo guests an opportunity to learn more about these active and interesting animals.
Toys - help keep the sea otters mentally stimulated as they interact with them by carrying them, diving with them, chewing on them, banging them against rocks as they do their shellfish — even sleeping with them!
Ice - Ice is a favorite treat for sea otters. Keepers provide ice in many different forms. The otters eat it, lie on it, dive with it, or just play with it.
Food - The otters eat shrimp, clam, squid, and fish such as pollock and capelin. Trainers feed the otters during training sessions. The otters also receive a variety of whole shellfish such as clams, mussels, and crabs. They must use their foraging skills and break open the shellfish by banging shellfish together, banging them against rocks, or crunching through the shells with their powerful jaws and large molars. Sometimes keepers place food in toys or freeze it into ice. This is a great way to incorporate two of the otters' favorite things—food and fun!
Meet the Animals
Capers was just two weeks old when he was found as an orphan pup in Kachemak Bay, Alaska, in May 2006. He was taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward and then transferred to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. He came to the Minnesota Zoo in December 2006.
Jasper was found as a lone pup in Kachemak Bay, Alaska, in July 2007. He was initially cared for by the Alaska SeaLife Center. He moved to the Minnesota Zoo in August 2007.
Rocky was found in July 2007 near Craig, Alaska. He too was an orphaned pup cared for at the Alaska SeaLife Center before coming to Minnesota.
How to Recognize Him:
Some 150,000–300,000 sea otters once ranged along 6,000 miles of northern Pacific coastline. Then, a century ago, hunting for furs drove sea otter numbers down to fewer than 2,000 worldwide. Thanks to a 1911 international treaty banning hunting, there are now about 100,000 in the wild. Still, sea otters are threatened by oil spills, habitat loss, food limitations, entrapment in fishing gear, and conflicts with the shell fishing industry.
The Minnesota Zoo has helped researchers study why some sea otter populations are falling. Understanding the cause is the first step to a solution.
Range and Habitat
Habits and Adaptations
The sea otters are the only marine mammal that does not have blubber to keep it warm. Its fur is critical for keeping them from freezing in the frigid waters of the northern oceans. The fur has two layers, an undercoat and longer outer guard hairs. Otters carefully groom their fur, rolling in the water and rubbing themselves in a way that traps a layer of insulating air bubbles between their warm skin and the ocean water. Their loosely jointed skeleton allows them to groom every inch of their body.
Sea otters can dive 100 feet deep or more when searching for food. They usually dive for 1–2 minutes, but can stay underwater for up to 5 minutes. Sea otters use hearing, smell, touch, and sight to hunt for food and avoid danger. They tuck food items they find into a flap of skin under their forearm. Then they pull them out and eat them after return to the surface. They are able to quench their thirst with seawater because their large, complex kidneys are able to handle the salt.
Eat and Be Eaten
Baby sea otters pups weigh 3–5 pounds at birth. They have light fur and guard hairs that keep them afloat. The pups are born with a full set of teeth and their eyes open. A sea otter mother carries her pup on her stomach and spends much of her day caring for it. Sea otter pups are dependent on their mother for about one year. A baby otter emits a high-pitched sound when it is distressed or can’t find its mother.
Sea otters segregate by sex. Groups of female and their pups stay in the center of the range. Breeding males stay close to the female groups and younger males are found on the outskirts of the range. Younger males are the first to move into to a new area.
Male sea otters live about 10–15 years and females live about 15–20 years. Sea otters in zoos and aquariums tend to live longer than sea otters in the wild.