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Thursday, September 23, 2010


To the casual observer sea otters look like land animals that just happen to spend a lot of time in the water. Their appearance seems to make one think that at best they are slow, awkward swimmers. However while playing an impromptu game of follow-the-leader with Big Maggie in front of the Aquarium of the Pacific’s sea otter exhibit, I discovered that they can be quite swift swimming through the water.

While on my way to the seal and sea lion exhibit early one Saturday morning, I noticed that Big Maggie, our newest sea otter at the Aquarium, was looking at me with great interest as I was walking past her exhibit in the Northern Pacific Gallery. I had been working with her for the past few months so I figured she recognized me.

Because to me she was looking very playful, on a whim I decided to see if she would play follow the leader along the glass like our sea lions do down in the pinniped tunnel. Sea lions love to interact with people along the glass of the tunnel, following them as they walk along the tunnel. I wasn’t sure if Big Maggie would do this but to my surprise she followed me back and forth along the glass. Since it was early morning and there was nobody else in the Gallery, I decided to see just how fast she could swim. I began jogging and then running back and forth along the exhibit. Not only could she keep up, but she could also at times swim faster than I was running! One of her tricks was to porpoise like a sea lion when she needed to take a breath so she didn’t have to break stride during her high speed swim. She also streamlined and undulated her body to maximize her angle of attack through the water taking full advantage of her powerful strokes from her flipper-shaped rear paws. I was quite impressed with Big Maggie’s demonstration of sea otter speed swimming.

Check out the video below to see Big Maggie’s speed run.

Big Maggie shows the source of her powerful swimming strokes, her flipper shaped rear paws.  | Hugh Ryono
Big Maggie swims along the bottom of the exhibit.  | Hugh Ryono

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