One of the things people associate sea otters with is undoubtedly the water. Look for any video or picture of them and they are probably happily playing in the water. Even their species’ name is determined by what body of water they live in.
But while otters spend most of their time swimming, you can still find otters waddling along the shore or resting by the beach. That means otters can head onto dry land if they want to, which raises the question, how much time do sea otters actually spend in the water, and can they survive on land like other mammals?
Join Floofmania, as we explore the sea otter’s behavior on land!
Are Sea Otters Aquatic, Semi-Aquatic, or Land Mammals?
Table of Contents
- 1 Are Sea Otters Aquatic, Semi-Aquatic, or Land Mammals?
- 2 Is It True That Some Sea Otters Spend Their Whole Lives In Water?
- 3 Do Sea Otters Ever Get Out Of The Water?
- 4 How Good Are Sea Otters At Moving Around On Land?
Generally, most otters are considered semi-aquatic mammals, meaning that they live on both land and water. The only exception to this is sea otters. Sea otters are considered fully aquatic, meaning they do not need to go on land to survive and can spend all their time in the water.
The interesting thing about our aquatic friends is that while they are classified as marine animals because of their behavior and lifestyle, their biology is closer to a semi-aquatic mammal.
Instead of scales, otters have fur, and instead of flippers, they have webbed feet. Most importantly, these little guys cannot breathe underwater and rely on oxygen. What this means is that biologically, there is nothing preventing a sea otter from going on land, which they sometimes do!
Is It True That Some Sea Otters Spend Their Whole Lives In Water?
Yes, although most sea otters leave the water at least once in their lives, they do not need to do it to survive. Otters can perform all the things necessary for their daily lives in the water, such as hunting, sleeping, and even giving birth.
The only time they go on land is for certain activities such as grooming or to hide from predators. (Even though they also like to groom themselves while floating in the water!)
So theoretically, sea otters can spend their entire lives swimming in the sea without ever setting paws on land if nothing forces them to.
How Long Can A Sea Otter Stay Out Of The Water?
There is no definite time for how long a sea otter can remain out of water. What is certain, though, is that they cannot live on land indefinitely. While this should not be a problem physically since they can breathe and walk on land just fine, the problem is their lifestyle.
Sea otters are simply not adapted to living on land and won’t know how to hunt or survive on their own. For example, most sea otters’ diet consists of shellfish and clams, things they can only find while swimming. They will also have less ability to avoid predators like bears and coyotes since they’ll have a hard time trying to outrun them. (They’re pretty awkward runners!)
Another problem is their coats which are adapted to help them survive the cold water, not on land. Since it is incredibly thick, it can also get very hot and uncomfortable on land, especially in a sunny area.
So while sea otters can technically survive on land, they will need to overcome a lot of problems. That is why otters usually only remain there for as long as needed before returning to the sea.
Do Sea Otters Ever Get Out Of The Water?
While sea otters can live their entire lives at sea, they do venture on land from time to time for some reason or another.
When Do Sea Otters Go On Land?
There is no specific time for when a sea otter hauls on land. Since their primary habitat is in the water, they will typically only go on land based on their needs instead of a fixed schedule.
While scientists are still trying to figure out all the reasons these aquatic mammals leave the water, they did identify a few reasons they go to land:
- To find a place to rest
- To groom themselves
- Safety from predators
- To warm themselves up
Sea Otters Sometimes Rest On Land
When they are tired, sea otters usually sleep in the water by rolling on their back and resting, while floating. Alternatively, sea otters might sleep on top of kelp growths which anchor their body and prevent them from drifting away.
While this is the case most of the time, some sea otters are known to haul onto the shore and rest on dry land. These trips can range either from short rests to a complete sleep cycle. Scientists observing this behavior notice that otters usually sleep on land at night only in places they are accustomed to.
Sea Otters Groom Themselves On Land
Sea otters are able to survive in the water for so long thanks to their warm fur coats. These furballs have some of the thickest furs of any animal, with more than a million hair fibers per square inch!
Their fur is so thick that it effectively insulates the sea otter and keeps heat trapped inside their bodies. For an animal that has so little body fat, this is critical to keep them from freezing over in the frigid waters.
With how vital their fur coats are, it’s no surprise that sea otters put a lot of effort into caring for them and maintaining their fur. Otters can spend as much as half their day grooming their fur and to do that, they prefer going to dry land such as climbing on top of a rock or finding solid ground.
They will use their paws and teeth to comb their hair back and clean out muck and dirt from their coats. Cleaning is much easier on dry land, where they also don’t have to worry about the water getting in their coats.
Not all sea otters do this, however, and some actually perform all of their grooming while floating in the water.
Sea Otters Go On Land For Protection From Predators
Sea otters are often hunted by aquatic animals, such as white sharks and killer whales. Being smaller and weaker, otters won’t be able to fight off these giant predators so their only hope is to find a way to escape. This is where the otter’s ability to walk on land becomes a lifesaver.
If an otter ever finds itself being hunted by a larger predator, it can run to dry land where most of its predators can’t pursue them. Once on land, they can wait until their pursuers decide to give up before returning to the water.
The ground is not totally safe for otters, though, since some land predators also hunt sea otters such as bears, which is one reason they don’t stay on land for very long.
Sea Otters Go On Land To Keep Warm
Even with their fur coats, there might be times when the water is too cold for sea otters. To avoid staying there for too long, otters will head onto dry land where it is easier for them to warm up. On shore, the temperature is milder, and the otters don’t have to worry about the water getting into their coats.
Otters will find somewhere dry to take a short break and clean their fur to get their temperature back to normal. Once they warm up, they can get back into the water and continue hunting.
How Good Are Sea Otters At Moving Around On Land?
When sea otters decide to go on land, their appearance is nothing like their graceful movements while swimming. These aquatic mammals are pretty clumsy on the shore which leaves them more vulnerable.
Can Sea Otters Run?
Yes, although sea otters are aquatic, they can run and walk on land, though not very well. Because of their webbed feet and bounding gait, otters can be rather clumsy. Another problem is their large digits at the end of their feet, making walking on land difficult but making steering in the water easy.
Despite that, otters can give a burst of speed and reach a sprint of 0.9 miles per hour, or a sixth of their swimming speed. Their clumsy movements, though, prevent them from sustaining those speeds for very long.
Are Sea Otters Good At Climbing?
Climbing is a vital skill for sea otters to help them survive. When they need to get out of the water, these aquatic mammals can climb and haul themselves up to dry land where they can rest or escape predators.
However, their climbing skills are not nearly as good as land creatures, and their webbed feet prevent them from climbing tall heights or steep surfaces.
Sea Otters Climb On Rocks
If an otter needs to find a dry spot for whatever reason, they do not necessarily need to go to shore. Small rocks in the water can work fine, and otters are skilled at pulling themselves up from the sea. These rocks can provide a temporary dry and safe place from the water where they can rest and groom themselves.
Some Sea Otters Climb On Boats
Yes, as many tourists will tell you, otters can climb onto small boats, kayaks, and rafts. They can do this if the boat is low enough to allow them to get a grip on the rail and pull themselves up.
There was an incident of this in Alaska where an uninvited passenger greeted a boat’s crew. To escape an orca chasing after her, a desperate otter climbed onto the back of the ship, where the orca couldn’t follow.
The crew would then release the otter once the orca had given up the chase.
Can Sea Otters Climb Trees?
While river otters can climb trees, their sea otter cousins cannot. As purely aquatic animals, otters are not used to climbing something as tall as a tree and will struggle to reach the top. (Or get anywhere, really!)
That means they cannot use this as a method to escape land predators. If a bear or another animal is chasing them, a sea otter’s best bet is to run to the water.
In reality, while sea otters do sometimes go on land, it’s unlikely that they’ll go far enough to actually get near any trees.
Can A Sea Otter Jump?
Yes, sea otters are capable of jumping vertically from the water. While they cannot jump as high or far as other sea creatures, they can still make small hops in the water. In the wild, otters can use this ability to hop to safety when being hunted to reach dry land.
In captivity, some trainers can train otters to jump on command, and this trick allows them to reach up and grab items above the water.
Author: Quade Ong
Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!