I am in love with sea otters. One of the smallest marine mammal species, it’s also the heaviest of the mustelid (weasel) family. I encountered this little fella while traveling Alaska's Lynn Canal from Juneau to Haines near the Eldred Rock Lighthouse.
Why do these animals fascinate me so? Sea otters can spend their entire lives, from birth to death, in the water. With no blubber for warmth, guard hairs keep the underfur layer dry, and an air compartment between the fur and skin is heated by the body. This air compartment, as well as its large lung capacity, are responsible for its buoyancy. Other sea otter adaptations for water include the ability to close its nostrils and small ears. The fifth digit on each hind foot is the longest, facilitating swimming while on its back, but making walking difficult. Its kidneys can process the drinking of salt water. Plus, they're so stinking cute!
More than that, sea otters are a keystone species, albeit endangered, feeding on sea urchins that would otherwise eat lower kelp stems, causing the kelp to drift and die. Loss of kelp forests leads to profound, cascading effects on the marine ecosystem.
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