Thursday, June 04, 2009
Since I’ve started working up close with the Aquarium’s sea otters I’ve noticed a few things about these furry critters that I hadn’t known before.
This week’s blog is on 5 things about sea otters that I bet you didn’t know.
1: Otters have soft paws
One of the husbandry behaviors that I work with Brook the sea otter is having her present her paw to me so I can look them over. This entails her placing her paws on my hand in a sort of double hand shake. The first time I did this I was amazed at how soft the pads on the bottom of her paws was. This is a species of animal that spends its time in the wild putting its paws in the nooks and crannies of sharp rocks foraging for food so I always assumed that their paws would be rough and blue collar-like. The pads on Brook’s paws feel almost dainty like a nice firm but soft throw pillow.
2: Otter fur feels very slick when wet
Most people when they look at sea otters assume that they would feel very fluffy to the touch. Brook is trained in a tactile behavior that allows us to check her fur by running our fingers through it so l can tell you that they do feel fluffy when they are dry but when wet it feels very slick. Water slides off the surface of their fur like a rain coat. If you think about it, this is a great adaptation for an animal that spends a lot of time underwater as it helps reduce drag when they are swimming.
3: Otters can stand upright
One of the neater behaviors that Brook does is to stand upright. Using her tail to help support her like a tripod, she can stand ramrod straight. This ability allows her to eat her clams and shrimp while standing up. It also makes for some neat visual images. Years ago I shot some videos of Brook in this upright stance and digitally added a light saber into her paws creating a short flick called “Darth Otter”. The sight of an otter dueling a trainer in a Star Wars inspired battle with light sabers went over big at a marine mammal conference that year.
4: Otters can curl up into a ball
Otters are very flexible. They can curl up their bodies to the point that they can nuzzle and groom the back of their hind quarters with ease. They can reach just about every part of their bodies. When in the water, they look like rolling balls of fur. This rolling and grooming in the water allows them to trap air bubbles into their fur helping to keep themselves warm as the air works like insulation next to their bodies.
5: Otters make a variety of sounds
Most people assume that otters are very quiet animals. Working with the Aquarium otters, however, I’ve heard them vocalize cries and grunts that sounds like everything from peacocks to the fictional robot from the movie “Wall-E”. I once heard a surprised otter utter a “Whoa!” that sounded just like the Pixar robot.
Stay tuned as I’m sure that as I work more with these little furballs they’ll be a lot more interesting things that I’ll learn about them during my volunteer shifts that I can pass on to you the readers in these blogs.
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