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How do Southern sea otters use tools? Candid Animal Cam heads to the ocean

  • Every Tuesday, Mongabay brings you a new episode of Candid Animal Cam, our show featuring animals caught on camera traps around the world and hosted by Romi Castagnino, our writer and conservation scientist.

Camera traps bring you closer to the secretive natural world and are an important conservation tool to study wildlife. This week we’re meeting one of the few mammals on the planet that use tools: the Southern sea otter.

The Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) is a marine mammal native to the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean. Weighing up to 45 kg, they are the heaviest members of the weasel family, but one of the smallest marine mammals. The sea otter has many adaptations to its marine environment. To begin with, their nostrils and ears can close when they are underwater. Their hind feet are long, flat and webbed to provide the best ergonomics for swimming. And their front paws have pads on the palms that enable them to grip slippery prey. But that’s not all. Sea otters have the densest fur in the animal kingdom! Their thick coat is their primary form of insulation against cold water, unlike other marine mammals who have a layer of fat to keep warm, also known as blubber. Watch the video to learn more about them!

Special thanks to Madeline Sanchez for sharing her footage with us. She is a graduate student at Sonoma State University studying the use of tidal creeks by southern sea otters, and the ability of passive recording devices to capture their foraging events. Tidal creeks offer a unique opportunity to record sea otter activities while we cannot be there, particularly at night. Along with camera traps, she is using acoustic recording devices to capture sounds of predation events: sea otters make loud and distinct crunching sounds when they eat crabs. She will defend her thesis this coming spring and graduate with a Masters of Science in Biology.

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Banner photo by Mike Baird via Wikimedia commons


Romi Castagnino is Mongabay’s bilingual writer. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @romi_castagnino