I am witnessing the ultimate state of relaxation! is the first thing that comes to mind when watching the large male sea otter floating leisurely on its back, tucked into a small niche in the cove, where neither current nor wind carries him out into the open water. So calm, so playful the sea mammal appears, taking a nap in either calm waters or wrapped in kelp, or occasionally hauled out on a soft squishy bed of bladder-wrack, swimming a short way out to the islands, diving, munching on a clam or a crab, rolling from back to belly or porpoising like a dolphin, seemingly leaping with joy.
However – behind the scenes life is actually a lot of work. The Old Man Otter who dominates our cove is a busy guy. It takes a lot of effort to stay warm when one is a furry creature living in an ocean. Though otters have the thickest and best insulating coat of all animals, they spend a lot of time grooming and porpoising to stay clean and keep the fine undercoat filled with air like a down jacket. If only a few square inches of fur lose their fluff protection, the otter can get hypothermic, which was a big problem with even slightly oiled otters during the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
To stay warm, the otter also has to eat a minimum of 20% of their body weight each day. That requires a lot of diving and digging for clams in the muddy ocean floor, and breaking the thick shells with the favorite rock he carries under his arm requires a bit of strength as well.
Old Man’s love life can take it out of him, too. Several times a year a lady otter comes into the cove for up to two weeks of action-filled honeymooning. She then has to go back out to the more open water to raise her baby as a single mom, often seeking the company of other females with pups. Old Man meanwhile has his prime clam bed to himself again, just the way he likes it.
Around the point is another, smaller cove we call the senior center. It’s usually occupied by an old male otter, often with a blind eye, or old injuries that hamper his hunting abilities. When one passes away, another moves in for a quiet end of life. Because food is sparser here, the stronger males don’t chase grandpa away.
The life of seeming luxury can also be daunting. There just is no free lunch!