How Do Sea Otters Keep Warm? (Their Metabolism & Impressive Fur)

Sea otters live predominantly in the water as they are aquatic mammals. This is hard if you are not a cold-blooded animal like fish are, but sea otters have their way to survive and thrive in the ocean, especially during cold weather.

About ninety percent of the world’s sea otter population can be found in the coastal waters of Alaska, which means they thrive in cold waters.

Today, Floofmania will take you on a journey of discovery where you can learn about these amazing animals, and how they stay warm.

Don’t Sea Otters Have Blubber?

Sea otters do not have a blubber layer underneath their skin like most marine mammals like seals, whales, and walruses do. This explains why sea otters are not as chunky-looking as these animals.

Without blubber, sea otters rely on their fur and body heat to stay warm in the cold waters of the Pacific. Imagine living in the cold waters of Alaska without extra layers of fat for insulation!

What is Blubber?

Blubber is a thick layer of fat that is found under the skin of most marine mammals. It is also called adipose tissue. It helps the animals stay insulated against heat loss and keep themselves warm despite the cold waters and harsh weather.

Animals that usually live in cold areas have blubber that they use for keeping warm so they can hunt, mate, and feed without risking their health. These animals include penguins, polar bears, whales, dolphins, seals, walruses, sea lions, and many others.

Sea otters do not have a blubber layer so they make up for it with thick fur and high metabolism, which requires a high food intake to keep their bodies warm.

Sea Otters Eat A Lot To Stay Warm

Sea otters eat a whole lot of seafood daily. In fact, their daily food intake is the equivalent of about 20% to 30% of their body weight! The reason they eat so much is that sea otters have a metabolism rate that is three times faster than the average mammal of its size. 

Their bodies produce heat even when they are not moving, which demands a lot of energy. This helps them stay warm in the cold water, especially during cold seasons.

This energy comes from the food they eat which explains their need to eat so much food every day. When your metabolism works three times faster, wouldn’t you be hungry all the time too?

What Do Sea Otters Eat?

Sea otter eating a clam while floating in the water

Being aquatic mammals, sea otters eat mostly seafood like fish, crustaceans, invertebrates, and bivalve animals including:

  • Crabs
  • Clams
  • Sea urchins
  • Abalone
  • Sea stars
  • Mussels
  • Sea worms
  • Squids

Because their metabolism is always on overdrive, sea otters are constantly hungry and are always foraging in between rest and grooming.

Sea otters are very smart animals. They are one of the few animals that use tools to get their food. They are known to use rocks to detach sea urchins and mussels from rock formations or crack open clams to get to the meat.

How Much Food Do Sea Otters Eat?

Eating is a big part of the sea otter’s day. They need to consume as much as 30% of their body weight to make up for the energy their body uses to produce heat to keep them warm in the water, even when they are resting.

Some sea otters can weigh up to 90 pounds so they can eat up to 18 to 27 pounds of seafood daily. This is to sustain the large amount of energy their body consumes every day. Imagine that!

Getting enough nourishment is crucial because the body requires a lot of energy to produce heat. Without blubber, they rely on their fur and body heat to survive.

Sea Otters Have The Thickest Fur In The Animal Kingdom

Did you know that sea otters have the thickest fur in the whole animal kingdom? Their fur contains as many as 1,000,000 individual hairs per square inch of their body. Just imagine how dense their fur is!

Without blubber for insulation, their dense fur plays a vital role in their survival. The sea otter’s fur is water-resistant and traps air and heat so their skin remains relatively dry and warm despite the cold water. 

The sea otter’s body is covered with thick fur except for its nose pad, the pads on the bottom of its paws, and the inside of its ear flaps.

The Sea Otter’s Fur Needs A Lot Of Grooming

Thick fur needs a lot of maintenance, especially so for sea otters. Imagine a million hair follicles in a square inch. That takes a lot of time and effort to maintain. And the sea otters do a good job at it!

Having thick fur requires a lot of time for cleaning and maintenance. Thick fur catches debris and dirt and gets tangled easily. 

Matting is a problem too. This is when their fur gets in densely tangled clumps. A day without grooming can have a dramatic effect on their fur. Good thing grooming is an instinct for sea otters so they avoid most of these problems.

How Do Sea Otters Groom Their Fur?

Sea otter grooming its fur while floating in the water

Sea otters’ skin remains dry despite them spending most of their lives in water, except when their fur is matted from dirt, oil, and debris.

They dedicate around a quarter of their day to grooming and maintaining their fur. In between sleeping and eating they groom. In fact, they groom themselves even during feeding time.

Sea otters use their claws and paws to comb their fur to remove debris and dirt and to avoid matting and tangling. They even blow air into their fur to aerate it to keep it dry and fluffy. They also squalene oil that their body produces and spread it regularly on their thick fur so water will slide off their fur.

How Long Do Sea Otters Spend On Grooming?

Three sea otters floating together in the water, two of them grooming themselves and one sleeping.

Sea otters spend about 5 to 6 hours per day grooming their fur to make sure it remains clean and water-resistant. They spend their day eating, sleeping, and grooming.

In between feeding and sleeping, they groom themselves. When they are resting, they take time to comb their fur and remove dirt. 

Grooming is a top priority because they rely on their fur for warmth. It is second nature for them, they just do it when they are not busy with anything else. Without blubber for insulation, wouldn’t you too?

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