Five Fast Facts about Otters

Otters have been around for at least 5 million years. During which time otters have adapted to live both on land and in water. They have webbed feet and the ability to close their nose and ears underwater. Here are Five Fast Facts about Otters that demonstrate the intelligence and fascinating habits of these incredible creatures.


Five Fast Facts about Otters


By Fiona Murphy

Otters are widely considered to be playful animals. Search YouTube and you’ll find dozens of clips of otters speeding down waterslides. However, it has been suggested that otters are not actually playing rather they are using water as means of locomotion. Scientists investigated this hypothesis using remote video cameras—they concluded that the animals slide down water for the sheer enjoyment of it.



Scientists have also learnt a whole lot more from otters including these five fast facts:

There are 13 species of otter

Otters have been around for at least 5 million years. During which time otters have adapted to live both on land and in water. They have webbed feet and the ability to close their nose and ears underwater.

Twelve out of thirteen otter species are in decline. Only the North American River Otter has been classified as having a stable population and an IUCN status of ‘Least Concern’. Two species—the smooth-coated otter and the Asian Small-Clawed Otter—are vulnerable to extinction. Four species including the Spotted-Neck otter are classified as ‘near threatened’. Five species of otter have experienced such drastic population declines that they are now endangered; these include the Sea Otter, Marine Otter and the Giant Otter.

The River Otter spends most of their time on land

River Otters only enter water to hunt or travel, they spend most of their time on land to avoid their coats of fur getting waterlogged. In fact, River Otters can walk many kilometres. These nightly jaunts have become a risky activity due to habitat changes. The Otter Conservation project, based out of Cardiff University, was originally set up to analyse the causes of population decline in otters across the UK. Initially, it was assumed that contaminants, disease and population biology, would be the main causes for the decline. However, of the 200 otters the organisation analyses each year 80-90% die as a result of road traffic accidents. The project’s data is now being used to ‘guide mitigation on roads, reducing the number of future casualties’.

The Giant Otter mates for life

The Giant Otter is the only mustelid (member of the weasel family) that mates with only one partner. While these otters are monogamous, couples tend to live in groups of up to ten other otters. The group of otters use their faeces and urine to mark their ‘place of residence’, which is typically on the bank of a slow-moving river.

The Sea Otter has the thickest coat of fur of any mammal

The Sea Otter does not have a layer of blubber—instead it has the thickest coat of fur of any mammal in the world. Their fur is also waterproof. Unfortunately, these attributes meant that Sea Otter fur became one of the most in-demand pelts. Approximately one million pelts were collected during the 18th century. The poaching was so systematic that by the time commercial fur trading ended in 1911 there were only 2000 Sea Otters left in the wild. The United States has made it illegal for anyone who is not an Alaskan Native to hunt Sea Otters.
While there are various conservation projects to help boost the Sea Otter population, the species is still classed as endangered by the IUCN red list. Oil spills have been identified as one reason which has prevented Sea Otters from thriving. Research shows that Alaskan Sea Otters located in the Aleutian Islands have been disappearing due to increased predation by Killer Whales. Scientists have determined that ‘counts remain well below carrying capacity for this region’ with a 90% reduction in the number of Sea Otters in the region.
A 2016 report has found that the illegal trade of Otters is still a significant issue, with almost 6000 otters being seized in Asia from 1980 to 2015. The authors of the TRAFFIC report warn that this figure is unlikely to accurately reflect the true scale of the illegal industry. Otters are being sold as pets. Smooth-coated otter pelts have also been seized.

The Sea Otter is a water baby

Sea Otters allow themselves to get entangled in kelp forests this creates a tether so they don’t drift away on sleep currents as they sleep. The Sea Otter is the only species of otter to give birth in water. The mothers stay in the water to nurse their offspring. This exposure to water ensures that newborns quickly learn how to swim and hunt.

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