Sea otters are adorable, fluffy critters. You may be wondering what animal would want to eat these cute critters. So, what are a sea otter’s predators?
A sea otter’s predators can vary from what region the sea otter lives in. Most sea otters are eaten by sharks, killer whales, eagles, bears, and humans. Sea otter pups are often eaten by bald eagles and are central to their diets.
You may have noticed sea otters have a lot of dangerous predators. If you want to learn more about how sea otters survive and escape, keep reading.
This guide covers all the necessary information about a sea otter’s predators. We will look at why they eat them and how.
Let’s dive in.
What are a sea otter’s predators?
Common sea otter predators include sharks, humans, eagles, and orcas. Some hunt sea otters naturally, while others hunt them due to declining populations of other species.
What animal eats sea otters is based on where the sea otter lives. Availability is critical in determining whether a predator will prey on a sea otter.
Healthy adult sea otters don’t have many predators. On the other hand, older sea otters and pups may fall victim to more predators.
Sea otters use many tactics to avoid predators from hunting them. They will use these when they sense danger or feel threatened.
Let’s go into more detail about sea otter predators.
In California, great white sharks are the primary predator of sea otters. Shark attacks are the leading cause of death for sea otters residing in California.
But, the sharks don’t eat the sea otters; they just bite them. These bites are fatal for the sea otter, leading to infections and blood loss. If the sea otter survives, it will affect its lifespan.
Researchers have found that the sharks mistake the poor sea otters for sea lions and seals. These prey are more nutritious for sharks as they have blubber instead of fur.
Sea otter populations along the Californian coast rapidly decline because of shark bites. This is concerning for conservationists, who are attempting to prevent this problem.
There is evidence that sharks have been biting and killing sea otters for no reason. Sea otters are washing up on California’s beaches, suggesting sharks hunt them for fun.
Some experts suggest that as shark populations rise, more sharks attempt to eat sea otters. As their preferred prey declines, they may be looking for new food.
Others have theorized that sharks believe they are hunting seals because they look similar underwater. When they go in for a bite, they realize the fur, muscle, and bone isn’t blubber and spit it out.
Like southern sea otters, northern sea otters are primarily hunted by orcas in Alaska. They also hunt sea otters due to declining sea lion and seal populations.
Instead of biting them like sharks, orcas eat them whole. Research suggests a small number of orcas have included sea otters in their primary diet.
Estimates have evidence to believe that 40,000 northern sea otters have been preyed on since 1990. Decreases in the orca’s usual prey significantly contribute to the shift in orca diets.
Other factors have been thought to be the reason for the orca’s sudden diet change. This includes overfishing and natural disturbances.
A single orca can eat over 1,800 sea otters in a year. This is a cause for concern as there are around 70,000 left currently in Alaska.
Southern sea otters are not under threat due to orcas, but this could change in the future. Population increases of sea lions and seals could prevent the decline of sea otters.
Orcas have also developed hunting methods to remain undetected by the sea otter. They swim on their backs to hunt the sea otters from below, then swim up, grab the sea otter, and eat it whole.
To avoid predation from orcas, they will dive or play dead when they sense them. They will also signal an alarm to other sea otters by raising a forepaw.
3. Bald eagles
Bald eagles often take sea otter pups when their mothers are foraging. They swoop down, grab them with their sharp claws, and eat them in a different location.
Bald eagles living along the Aleutian archipelago diet consist of sea otter pups and kelp forest critters. But as sea otters have declined, bald eagles have had to change their diets.
They now turned to mainly fish and other seabirds. Their foraging tactics have changed, and they must look for prey elsewhere.
Another reason for this change in bald eagle diets is the loss of kelp forests. This is also the result of sea otter populations as they maintain the health of the kelp.
They do this by eating sea urchins, preventing the overgrowth of sea urchins, which makes the kelp forest unliveable for other species. When other species can’t live there, bald eagles must find new food in different locations.
Humans are responsible for the near extinction of sea otters in the early 1900s. Sea otters have been exploited for many years, even today, with laws to protect them.
They are poached for their fur, one of the main reasons sea otter populations have declined. In Asia, illegal fur trades run in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
Sea otters are also poached for their meat as well. You may find otter meat on the menu in many exotic restaurants.
People use their body parts alongside their meat for multiple reasons and believe they have therapeutic effects. They also use otter blood to treat epilepsy and their skin to help women during pregnancy.
They are also kept as domesticated pets in many Asian countries. Reports have said that the origins of these sea otters are from Southeast Asia.
Live otter trades are prominent in Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand. Most of these businesses can be found on the internet, with many websites based on selling live otters.
Fisheries have impacted sea otter populations by trapping and injuring them. Many sea otter deaths have been related to ghost gear left behind by fisheries.
This ghost gear has caught and drowned sea otters and decreased populations worldwide. The most dangerous types of ghost equipment include fishing pots and traps.
Brown bears often scavenge for sea otters on Alaska’s coastline. They rarely eat live sea otters and forage for sea otters washed up on the beach.
Since sea otters were declared endangered and protected by the US, the population has increased. They have returned to their old habitats and began competing for food with brown bears.
Scientists have said that the increased population of sea otters has been making the brown bears’ lives harder. Sea otters and bears eat clams, making it harder for them to find food.
But, the bears have adapted to these conditions and have begun eating the sea otters. Some have even started killing the sea otters themselves and eating them fresh.
This is very unusual behavior for these brown bears. Examinations of the sea otter carcasses have proved that the carcasses’ skulls were crushed, showing they were attacked when they were alive.
There’s some speculation that the bears have been feeding on local seals, and since the sea otters have returned, they have added them to their diets.
Sea otters have a range of dangerous predators. This includes sharks, humans, eagles, and orcas. Depending on where they live, they will have different predators
Sharks often attack and bite sea otters instead of eating them whole. There are some theories on why they do this, but it hasn’t been confirmed.
Orcas have also been feeding on sea otters. This is because of the decline of their usual prey.
Humans also play a role in the decrease of sea otters. Poachers exploit sea otters and fisheries that trap and kill them.