The Zoroastrians believed otters to be sacred animals. It’s an ancient pre-Islamic religion. It’s said that in their religion, otters are “the dogs of the river or sea and had strict rules forbidding the killing of otters. It was thought that otters helped keep water purified by eating already dead creatures that might contaminate the water source if they were allowed to rot. Zoroastrians would also hold ceremonies for otters found dead in the wild.” They’re one of the world’s oldest organized faiths. Not only that, but it’s said that one thousand dead dogs are reincarnated into a single otter, known as “water dogs.”
Otters are considered to be lucky animals in various Native American tribes. They’re also considered a symbol of loyalty and honesty, but some, “particularly in present-day Canada and Alaska, viewed the river otter with awe and dread and associated the creatures with the undead and drowning. Some cultures even forbid eating the creatures and were offended when colonial Europeans began hunting the river otters and selling their furs.” Even though these cultures have differing opinions on otters, they’re still popular animals loved around the world (Mental Floss).
Otters take care of each other, just like humans do. This makes us fall in love with them even more. They can spend up to five hours per day grooming each other. Males, females, and their young will all groom each other. It’s a grooming party in the otter world. Because they have the thickest fur in the world, they need to spend a lot of time taking care of it. This fur is water-resistant and keeps them warm (DOI).
Being a human mother is a full-time job, but what about being an otter mother? It’s the same! “Mothers spend up to 14 hours per day foraging to support a pup’s intense nutrition needs. This high demand leaves otter mothers depleted, and many die from minor illnesses. They do it all on their own, with no help from their fathers. The babies will also rest on the mother’s bellies until they can swim. The mothers provide full-time care for their babies for six to eight months, until the babies can survive independently”. The mothers risk their lives just to make sure their babies survive. That’s unconditional love, right there. (Tree Hugger)
Even though mom otters spend a lot of time taking care of their young, they’re also open to adopting other otters that are not their babies. “In 2001, a female otter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium gave birth to a stillborn pup on the same day a stranded pup was discovered in the wild nearby. They dropped the pup in with the female otter, and she immediately went into mom mode. This couldn’t get any cuter. The otter went straight into mom mode, adopted the stranded otter, and took them under their care. Later on, the otter was released into the wild to roam around freely (Mental Floss).
Oftentimes, we don’t like dealing with neighbors or people in general. But otters are very different. They’re welcoming and will accept anyone into their home. They’ll easily move into another otter’s home, even if they’re still living there. Imagine if people did that. They’ll even kick other animal species out of their home. Talk about dominant! It’s said that “otters sometimes take up residence in abandoned beaver lodges or muskrat dens. Some even move in while beavers are still present. They also take over the riverbank dens of foxes, badgers, and rabbits” (North Carolina Aquariums).
If you thought you were a fast swimmer, you’re nothing compared to otters. These guys can “reach swim speeds of up to 7 miles per hour. This pace is three times faster than the average human swimmer.” And if you’ve been practicing holding your breath, otters also have you beat. They can “hold their breath for 3-4 minutes, closing their nostrils and ears to keep out water.” They have strong, powerful tails that propel them through the water, and webbing between their toes that make them swim fast and furiously (Northern Woodlands).
Sometimes, otters play dead. They’ll place their hands on their eyes, cover their face, and not move. Even though it can seem concerning at first, if you don’t know they’re messing around, it’s incredibly adorable. As told on Reddit, sometimes they’ll play dead and wait for the person to leave. When they stop playing dead, they’ll open their eyes and once they notice the person is still there, they’ll cover their eyes again. It can’t get cuter than that! (Tree Hugger)
Humans aren’t the only animals that mate for life (or so you hope). Asian small-clawed otters also mate for life. They’re monogamous and only have one breeding partner through the breeding season, or one mate for life. In the life of an Asian small-clawed otter, both the father and the mother help raise their young, as opposed to the mother doing all the work. They may have up to two litters per year, and one to six pups in an entire litter. That’s a lot of babies! These are the smallest otters out of the 13 species. They also have a vocabulary of at least 12 calls. We’re not going to speak otter anytime soon, but researchers can get a gist of what they’re saying with their calls (Cleveland Zoo).
River otters, which are different than sea otters, are some of the most playful otters of the bunch. They’re seen splish-splashing all around the river, enjoying themselves to the fullest. River otters are built to swim and have legs and feet that help propel them in the water. They also have visible ears, swim belly down, and use their webbed feet to paddle in the rivers. Their play isn’t only for enjoyment, though, it serves a purpose. “All that play is beneficial for the otters too. These playful behaviors help the otters learn important survival skills such as hunting techniques, how to mark their territory with their scent and how to develop social bonds” (Reconnect With Nature).
These social creatures just got a lot cuter. They laugh when they’re having fun. This alone might make you fall in love with otters even more. They grunt, chuckle, chirp, grunt, and groan when they’re playing with other otters. You’ll likely hear a river otter before you see it. They make noises not only when they’re having fun, but also when they’re warning each other about a predator or expressing their satisfaction over a delicious meal (Animals).
Humans love small talk, and otters love small talk. It’s like a match made in heaven! A study in 2014 revealed that river-dweller pups “have 11 of their calls that they intersperse with “infant babbling.” Among the most notable calls: a “hum gradation” used to tell otters to change directions and a “Hah!” shout when a threat is nearby.” This is the otter pup’s small talk. All they need to do is make a few sounds and their adults will know exactly what’s going on (Mental Floss).
This means they’re very important. We need otters in our environment because, without them, the world would be a different place. Basically, without sea otters, the urchin population would bloom. This, in turn, destroys the kelp forest habitat. If there’s a healthy otter population, it means there’s a healthy watershed (Tree Hugger).
If you find yourself wide awake throughout the night, you’re not alone. Otters are also nocturnal. They spend their days sunbathing and become incredibly active at night. No sunscreen is required for these furry animals, as their fur protects them from the sun’s harsh rays. They’re likely having a better time outdoors than we are, with our crisp, burnt skin. They can float on their back in the water and have the best time relaxing and enjoying themselves (Weather).
Depending on the species, otters have either sharp claws or blunt claws. This just makes them so much cuter and will certainly make anyone fall in love with them that much more. It’s said that “most otters have sharp claws at the end of each toe, which helps them to grab prey. However, there are three species of otter that have blunt claws or none at all. They are the Asian small-clawed otter, African clawless otter, and Congo clawless otter. These otters also have less webbing between their digits. This combination allows them to have greater nimbleness when foraging.” They’re nimble little creatures who know how to grab prey and hunt. Compared to humans, they also have fantastic dexterity that no human comes close to having (Sea World).
While they might not fit into socks when they’re adults, they fit into socks when they’re babies! This photograph alone will make you fall in love with otters more than ever before. The photo is captioned, “a zookeeper gave this baby otter a sock to keep warm. She later turned it into a onesie with holes for the hands, feet, and tail.” Because of dog’s loyalty and love for humans, they always say dogs are a man’s best friend. But we’re beginning to believe that it’s actually otters (Bored Panda).
Otters need to eat a lot of food. It’s part of the reason we wish we were otters, so we could consume as much food as them without having to worry about our diet. “The otters, which need to consume 25 percent to 35 percent of their body weight every day to maintain their metabolism and keep themselves warm in the cool waters, are divided into three “dietary guilds”: Deep-diving otters that dine on abalone, urchins, and Dungeness crab; medium divers who subsist on clams, worms, and smaller shellfish; and those that stay in shallower waters, feeding on black snails.” They’re genius. To keep their species growing and thriving, they’ve figured out a system to divide themselves for the best survival strategies possible (Mental Floss).
Otters are sociable creatures, and they love to rest in groups. A group of them is called a raft. Researchers have reported seeing over 1,000 otters resting together. As we’ve mentioned earlier, to keep themselves from drifting away, they’ll wrap themselves in seaweed and hold hands while they sleep. This behavior is not just cute, it’s also an example of their strong social bonds and cooperative nature. Otters are highly social animals that communicate with each other through a variety of sounds, including chirps, whistles, and growls. They also use body language to convey information, such as arching their backs to display aggression or rolling onto their backs to signal submission. Otters have a complex social structure that includes family groups, territories, and hierarchies, and they are known to engage in playful activities such as sliding down muddy banks or chasing each other around (DOI).
Believe it or not, about 90% of sea otters live in Alaska. “Many live in the waters surrounding public lands including Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Glacier Bay National Park. Southern sea otters range along the mainland coastline of California from San Mateo County to Santa Barbara County, and San Nicolas Island.”Both sea otters and river otters face threats in Alaska, including habitat loss, pollution, and over-harvesting. However, efforts are underway to protect these beloved creatures and ensure their survival for future generations to enjoy. Visitors to Alaska can observe otters in their natural habitats, either by taking a boat tour along the coast or hiking along the banks of rivers and lakes. (DOI).
Otter couches, also known as otter dens or holts, are shelters that otters build for themselves and their families. Otters are known for their cleverness and adaptability, and they use a variety of materials to construct their couches, including sticks, mud, and vegetation. They often build their couches near water sources such as rivers, lakes, and coastlines. Otter couches serve several purposes for otters. They provide a safe and secure place for otters to rest, sleep, and raise their young. Otters typically have one or two litters of pups each year, and the couch provides a warm and protected environment for the pups to grow and develop. Otters also use their couches as a place to stash food and other items, such as toys or rocks. (Bristol Otter Survey).
Otters are playful animals known for their curious and adventurous nature. While they typically spend most of their time in the water hunting for fish and other prey, they also enjoy exploring their surroundings on land. It’s not uncommon for otters to chase and play with small creatures they encounter, including butterflies. Otters chasing butterflies made the news. In an adorable clip, a family of otters is spotted chasing a butterfly around at the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee. They stole the hearts of thousands who saw the photos and videos of them chasing the butterflies around.
Otters love people and will do anything they can to help them. This includes helping fishermen maximize their haul. In Bangladesh, fishermen have been training otters to act as herders and chase large schools of fish into the nets for centuries. According to Time Magazine, the fishermen use otters “because they catch more fish than we can alone,” and the otters don’t catch the fish but help chase them towards the fishing nets. The “fishing is usually done at night, and the otters can help fishermen catch as many as 26 pounds of fish, crabs, and shrimp (Time).
There are 13 species of otter in total, but that doesn’t mean they’re safe from endangerment. Five of them are endangered, five are near-threatened, and two are considered vulnerable. Out of all the species in the world, the North American river otter is of the least concern. Mainly, they’re threatened by pollution, destruction of their habitat, poaching, and overfishing, most of which can be stopped and prevented by humans. Rogue fishing gear also poses a threat to them, which is yet another thing humans can easily change. According to Oceana, “it is thought that oil spills pose the greatest threat due to the proximity of sea otters to major tanker routes and their susceptibility to hypothermia if their fur comes into contact with oil.” The best way we can prevent this is to start rethinking how we treat the world. Humans are the biggest threat to nature, anyway.
Because they’re fragile and necessary for the ecosystem, the U.S. and international law have reinforced laws protecting sea otters. Otters were “hunted to the edge of extinction by fur traders in the 18th and 19th centuries, the few remaining sea otters (about 2,000 scattered in remnant colonies throughout the North Pacific rim) were first protected by the International Fur Seal Treaty in 1911. Sea otters in the United States received additional protections with the passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act in the 1970s” (DOI). Reading this eases our anxiety. It looks like most humans are doing everything they can to help these little critters survive.