What Do Sea Otters Eat?

Sea otters love a diet rich in shellfish and other invertebrates. They’re big fans of crabs, clams, snails, worms, abalones, sea urchins, and mussels. They can sometimes eat squids, octopuses, fish, seabirds, and even plants. This diverse menu helps them meet their energy needs and stay warm in the icy waters.

Did you know sea otters have an extraordinary appetite? They need about a quarter of their body weight in food daily. Intriguing, isn’t it? But there’s much more to learn about the sea otters’ diet.

So, stick around as we explore the watery world of sea otters and their eating habits. We will crack open the big question – ‘What Do Sea Otters Eat?’ in detail. We promise it will be a fun-filled journey through their aquatic world.

Are Sea Otters Carnivores or Omnivores?

Sea otters are carnivores that feed on a variety of invertebrates. They may occasionally consume plant material, but this only comprises roughly 30 percent of their diets.

An interesting finding from the Aquatic Mammals Journal indicates that sea otters have been spotted eating more than 150 different types of prey.

sea otter

Despite this wide variety, these otters have distinct food preferences, which often vary from one otter to another.

A research study conducted in Monterey Bay, California, revealed that each sea otter specializes in only a few types of sea creatures available in its environment. This behavior helps reduce competition among sea otters in the area.​

Also Read: River Otters Vs Sea Otters: All Differences Explained

Interestingly, their habitat type and population status can influence their diet and foraging behavior. For instance, sea otters in areas with less dense populations and faster growth rates consume more calories per minute. This higher caloric intake is likely due to a more abundant food supply and less competition.

Rather than the population size, the type of habitat has a greater impact on the choice of food source, such as whether to go clamming or crab fishing. For instance, intertidal sea otters are more likely to consume snails. In contrast, a diet of clams and crabs is more common in open-water habitats.

What Do Sea Otters Eat? The Complete Sea Otter Diet

Let’s look at the commonly consumed prey species by sea otters.

  • Sea urchins: These marine creatures make up a significant portion of a sea otter’s diet. Sea otters skillfully break the hard shell of sea urchins to enjoy the soft meat.
  • Crabs: Sea otters love crabs. They dive into the sea and search through the sand to find them.
  • Clams and mussels: These two are a daily staple in sea otters’ diets. They provide the otters with the protein and nutrients they need to stay healthy.
  • Snails and other mollusks: Snails and other slow-moving critters are also on their menu. Otters dive down to the sea bottom to hunt for these slow movers.
  • Worms: These wiggly creatures are also part of the sea otter’s menu. Otters are skilled at finding and catching them.
  • Abalones: These are another type of shellfish that otters like. Otters can get past the tough exterior to eat the soft insides.
  • Fish: Though not very common, fish are also a part of the sea otter’s diet. They usually go for slow-swimming fish, showing us they know how to grab an opportunity when they see one.
  • Squid and Octopus: Sea otters might occasionally go for a squid or an octopus. These are not a regular part of their diet, but otters are clever creatures and will take the chance if they can.
  • Birds: Interestingly, sea otters have been known to catch and eat water birds occasionally. This shows they are not picky eaters and can adjust their diet per their needs.
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Sea Otters Eating Habits – How Often Do Sea Otters Eat?

Sea otters are highly flexible creatures. They can adjust their eating habits per the time of day or season.

According to a research article published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, Sea otters exhibit both nocturnal and diurnal behavior, making them “cathemeral,” which means they’re active during both the day and night.

sea otter

This pattern varies greatly depending on the individual otter, their geographic location, and food availability.

In regions with high human activity or predators, otters might choose to be more nocturnal, taking advantage of the quiet night hours for feeding and other activities. In less disturbed areas, they may be observed to be active during the day. They eat, sleep, and repeat, all to fuel their fast metabolism.

Seasonal changes can also influence sea otters’ activity patterns. For instance, during summer, when the food source is plenty, sea otters feast on their preferred prey. This could include everything from sea urchins and crabs to various types of fish and mollusks.

But during winter, when food becomes scarce, they become survivalists. They are less picky and dine on whatever they can get their paws on. This adaptability helps them survive in these colder, food-scarce months.

How Do Sea Otters Hunt and Eat?

1. Hunting Techniques

Sea otters are phenomenal divers, diving as deep as 330 feet to search for food. They can stay submerged for up to five minutes, exploring the seafloor for tasty meals like clams, crabs, and sea urchins.

They take short breaks of 1 to 2 minutes between dives, and the length of these breaks can change depending on what they’re hunting.

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They’re good at finding prey with their sensitive whiskers and nimble paws, even in cloudy waters or dark conditions. ~Source

2. Eating Habits

Sea otters have a unique way of dining. They eat while floating on their backs and use their stomachs as tables. When they catch something to eat, they eat small or soft critters right away. If they catch bigger prey with a hard shell, they use their teeth or a stone to break it open and get to the meat inside.

Interestingly, there’s a hierarchy among them that influences their feeding habits. Larger, dominant otters often take food from smaller ones, forcing the smaller otters to eat less desirable food.

How Much Does a Sea Otter Eat?

Sea otters eat about 20 to 35 percent of their body weight in food each day. This means that an otter weighing 50 pounds would need to eat around 12.5-15 pounds of food daily!

But why such a massive appetite, you might wonder? This is because sea otters have a super-fast metabolism. They use up energy 2 to 3 times faster than land animals of the same size. They must constantly refuel every 3 to 4 hours to keep up with that energy.

sea otter

Their big appetite is also their secret weapon against the cold. They need all the body heat they can get to survive in cold marine environments. And their mega meals give them the calories required to crank up their internal heat.

Did you know sea otters have the densest fur of any animal on the planet? They have about a million hairs packed into every square inch of their bodies. That’s more hair in a small patch than a whole human head! Keeping all that fur in top condition requires a lot of energy. And that’s another reason why these otters have such big appetites.

What Do Baby Sea Otters Eat?

Baby sea otters, known as pups, need different food than grown-up otters. They rely entirely on their mother’s milk for the first few months. This milk is super-rich and full of fat, giving the pups all the nutrients, they need to grow big and strong.

When the pups are around two months old, they begin trying out solid food. But don’t expect them to start cracking open tough shells just yet. Their mother brings them easy-to-eat foods like small crabs and sea urchins. This food is more for learning than for filling their bellies.

As the months pass, the pups start showing off their new teeth and learning hunting skills. They practice cracking open shells and catching their own meals. But they still need their mother to help them learn and to bring them food.

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When they are six to eight months old, sea otter pups can find and eat their own food. They can eat many different invertebrates, just like grown-up sea otters can!

FAQs about What Do Sea Otters Eat?

Q: Do Sea otters eat sea kelp?

A: No! Sea otters do not usually eat kelp but need it to live. They use kelp to keep it from floating away in the water. They wrap themselves up in the long kelp strands to stay in one place while they rest or eat.

Q: How strong is a sea otter’s bite?

A: Otters have sharp and powerful teeth. They can bite with a force of up to 50 pounds per square inch. This strength is one reason they can feed on a diet that includes some of the ocean’s tougher creatures.

Q: What are the sea otters’ favorite food?

A: Sea otters have a diverse diet, but they especially like sea urchins. These spiky marine creatures are often featured on the sea otter’s menu. But, their favorite foods can vary with geographical location and the availability of food sources. For instance, otters in some areas might consume more crabs than clams and mussels.

Q: Do Sea otters eat ice cubes?

A: No, sea otters usually do not eat ice cubes. But there might be instances of sea otters playing with and even munching on ice cubes, especially in captivity or human care; it’s not part of their natural diet. They don’t eat ice cubes for nutritional value. Still, they might crunch on them out of curiosity, for hydration, or simply because they enjoy it.

Q: Can Sea otters eat sharks?

A: Sea otters primarily eat invertebrates, not typically preying on sharks. However, when food sources are limited, they might take advantage of a small shark if the opportunity arises.

Q: How do sea otters learn to hunt?

A: Hunting skills in sea otters are learned from their mothers during their growing years. Young otters observe their mothers and practice hunting skills until they master them.

Wrapping Up

So, we’ve got the answer to “What do sea otters eat?”. They are undoubtedly unique in their appetite and diet. They eat up to a quarter of their body weight daily, showing off their adaptable dining habits and fascinating survival skills.

They are not picky eaters, either! They eat everything from sea urchins and crabs to clams and even birds. We hope you enjoyed exploring the sea otter diet with us! Stay tuned for more otter-ly-filled adventures.

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