After a picnic lunch at Miller’s Landing we headed towards the Seward Harbor. Along the way we went past the local Department of Motor Vehicles where I got my first driver’s license the summer I turned 16.
Pedro needed to answer emails, so he dropped me off near the harbor and went to find a parking place. By this time the piles of grey clouds had dropped lower, and I had little hope of getting excellent photos of birds.
Instead, I ended up getting amazing photos of sea otters! The first otter encounter took place on the outside of the harbor jetty. As I walked along the shoreline snapping photos of tiny sandpipers, movement in the water caught my attention. A sea otter poked his head up and flipped over on his back about 25 feet away from me.
For the next twenty minutes I watched the sea otter dive and come up with crabs for his lunch. With each successful catch, he would float on his back and eat with gusto. Occasionally, big waves would wash over him, but he held on tight to his lunch and ignored them.
When he swam out into Resurrection Bay, I climbed back up to the parking lot level and headed towards the boat slips. I wandered around for five minutes looking for birds when I glanced over and saw another sea otter lounging in the water.
Do Otters Lounge?
You decide. I think she looked like a lounging otter catching catnaps in the aqua waters of the harbor. Or better yet, a koala’s cousin with miniscule ears and a long tail. Whatever the case, she seemed unperturbed by my presence. I snapped photos of her until I noticed a second sea otter on the back of a yacht.
The second otter alternated between grooming itself and rolling around on the tiny deck. Eventually, it rolled off the back of the yacht and came to check in with the other otter. Based on their different colorings, sizes, and interactions, I assumed they were a sow-pup pair.
Eventually the clouds started spitting at us. I pulled my raincoat out to cover my camera and kept on observing. If only my coat had a half of the otter’s coat’s thickness, I thought. I could stay out here as long as I wanted, too. The naturalist on the glacier cruise had explained that sea otters have the densest fur of all animals—marine or land.
A square inch of otter skin has MORE hair than and ENTIRE German Shepherd Dog! In fact, someone took the time to count how many hairs per square inch, and they found between 750,000 and 1 million. And I used to think our German Shepherds had a lot of hair (especially in the Spring).
The otter can outlast a human any day in the cold Alaskan waters. Humans can only survive 15-30 minutes—sea otters, well, the live in the water 95% of the time!
Why All That Hair?
Sea otters have all that hair for a reason. Unlike their country cousins, members of the weasel family, they spend their lives in the oceans—even giving birth in the open water. Other marine mammals have healthy layers of blubber to keep them warm or help them float. Sea otters just have all that hair.
In fact, mamma sea otters have been known to ‘sink-proof’ their pups by excessive grooming. The grooming traps air in the fine baby fur, turning it into an unsinkable raft. The mammas also tie their babies up with kelp to keep them from floating away. Sea otters spend a large portion of every day grooming themselves or grooming their pups.
Because of their beautiful fur, hunters almost wiped out the entire population of sea otters. This lust for fur caused other problems in the kelp ecosystem where sea otters make their homes. Sea otters keep the sea urchin population in check—when sea urchins overpopulate, the kelp ecosystem suffers. For this reason, scientists call sea otters a keystone species. One can look at the health of the sea otter population to judge how well the rest of the ecosystem fairs.
The cool drizzle turned into a cold downpour, so I made my way downtown to find a warm drink while I waited for Pedro. As I waited in line inside a steaming coffee shop, I thought about my friends floating in the harbor and all they could teach me.
Six Things Sea Otters Taught Me
1. Improvise. Sea otters are one of the few animals to use tools. They will use rocks to crack open oyster shells. How often do I stand around waiting for an answer instead of looking for a solution?
2. Hang on to each other. When out in the open waters, sea otters float in groups of 10s to 100s (or more). When the waters get rough, they link arms to stay together. How often do I seek solitude when I should reach out for my friends?
3. Self-care is vital for survival. Sea otters don’t suffer from vanity, they know if they want to stay warm and keep afloat they need to groom themselves. How often do I set aside my own basic needs and start to drown because of it? Even worse, how often to I criticize others for their self-care routines?
4. Every life matters (including my own). When one species (or race) suffers, we all suffer. How often do I think that the way I treat my fellow humans or the environment I live in really matters?
5. Be flexible and graceful. Sea otters have to groom ALL of their fur because their lives depend upon it. How often do I act in a rigid, unbending way instead of meeting life’s challenges with flexibility and grace?
6. Live life with gusto. Whether they’re eating, playing, or fishing, sea otters seem to do it with gusto. How often do I act like a crab instead of an otter?
Beauty Tip #21: Strive to live like a sea otter and not a crab.
Q4U: What animal inspires you to live a more abundant life?