Sea otters are sea mammals native to the eastern and northern parts of the North Pacific Ocean. Adults weigh up to 99 pounds and are the weasel family’s heaviest animals, but strangely the smallest of all marine mammals. They have a thick fur coat that acts as their primary insulation. Although sea otters can walk comfortably on land, they prefer to live solely in the ocean.
Sea otters inhabit the environments near shores where they dive to the floor of the sea to forage. They prey mostly on marine invertebrates, with sea urchins being their favorite. Besides, they eat some fish species, and various crustaceans and mollusks. Sea otters have remarkable eating and foraging habits. They use rocks for dislodging prey and opening shells, making them among the few mammals that use tools. While sea otters might look like cuddly creatures, they can be very defensive when they or their offspring are in danger. Like many other animals, sea otters find their safety in numbers. But, did you know that sea otters have animals that prey on them too? Below are eight of sea otters’ predators.
List of Sea Otter Predators
Humans hunt sea otters for their meat and fur. They use the fur to make handicrafts. Humans have changed their way of hunting otters over the years. Initially, they would use homemade weapons and arrows. Later, traps and guns emerged at the height of the hunt for the mammals. Today, most people use traps for hunting them.
Some people hunt otters just for the thrill of killing them. Others, such as commercial fishermen, consider otters as competitors out to reduce their catch. They, therefore, kill otters so they can’t eat the fish and other sea creatures. Sometimes, though, otters get caught fishermen’s nets.
One of the biggest predators of sea otters are coyotes. Coyotes belong to the dog family, and once lived mainly in deserts and prairies. Today, they roam the American continent’s mountains and forests. They have even managed to colonize cities such as Los Angeles and are found in most parts of North America. Coyotes have a strong sense of smell and excellent vision. They can run at 40 miles an hour, making them exceptional hunters. During winter and fall, coyotes form packs to make their hunting more effective.
Apart from sea otters, coyotes eat just about anything, including deer, frogs, fish, rodents, and rabbits. Also, they prey on snakes, carrion, grass, and fruit. Many farmers and ranchers regard them as destructive pests because they kill calves, lambs, and other livestock, as well as pets.
3. Bald Eagles
Bald eagles reside in their numbers along the Aleutian archipelago off the Alaskan coast. They place their nests on shoreline sea stacks, coastal cliffs, and islets. Bald eagles get over 90 percent of their food from the ocean.
Sea otters were once dominant in the coastal marine environments, not far from the islands. However, in recent years, the population of sea otters has declined significantly courtesy of main sea otter predator, the bald eagle. Bald eagles’ diet was once predominantly sea otter pups and kelp forest fish. However, with the decline in sea otter populations, bald eagles have to turn to marine fish. In response, bald eagles have had to adjust their foraging tactics and look for prey elsewhere.
4. Sea Lions
Sea lions are another major predator of sea otters. Most sea lions aren’t picky eaters and feed a wide range of seafood. Their diet varies according to regions and has changed significantly through time. Other than sea otters, sea lions prey on squids, whiting, lamprey, herring, dogfish, anchovy, rockfish, sandlance, arrowtooth flounder, salmon, and clams, among others. Further, they consume cephalopods, birds, crustaceans, and, occasionally, other pinnipeds. While feeding, Californian sea lions often cooperate with other species such as sea birds and dolphins.
5. Killer Whales
Killer whales have not always preyed on sea otters. Their favorite prey has always been sea lions and seals. However, these two have experienced a significant decline in their population. Sea lions and seals are now not as abundant as they once were, especially in the North Pacific, forcing the whales to turn to sea otters for food. This has led to a decline in sea otter numbers, especially in western Alaska. This decline has seen sea urchins increase in number because sea otters are their main predator. The increased sea urchin population has led to a decrease in kelp densities. Consequently, the kelp forest ecosystem is gradually collapsing.
The population of otters has been increasing ever since it was declared an endangered species and protected by the US. This increase has seen it compete for clams with the brown bear. This competition has seen brown bears, which are quite adaptable, begin to prey on sea otters. Although many of the bears are content with scavenging dead otters, some have, over the years, developed a taste for fresh otter meat.
7. Eared Seals
Eared seals, also referred to as otariids, are another predator of sea otters. They’re members of the pinnipeds family that also includes fur seals and sea lions. Eared seals are recognized by their conspicuous ears and flippers. Different from true seals, they have external ear flaps. Other than sea otters, eared seals also feed on krill (an animal that closely resembles a shrimp), lobsters, crabs, crustaceans such as shrimps, and fish, among others.
8. White Sharks
White shark attacks are a leading cause of death among sea otters, especially in California. Interestingly, the predators do not actually feed on the otters. This notwithstanding, shark bites now account for over half of sea otter deaths. As a result, the population of sea otters along the Californian coast has significantly decreased, raising concerns among conservationists. Scientists have sought to establish why white sharks would be attacking sea otters, yet they don’t feed on them. They found that the predators simply mistake otters for other more nutritious prey such as sea lions and seals. It is only after biting the sea otters that white sharks realize their mistake.
I hope that this article on sea otter predators was helpful! If you are interested, visit the Animal Facts Page!