What Do Sea Otters Eat?

You may know sea otters for their taste in shellfish. You may be wondering what else they eat other than shellfish. So, what do sea otters eat?

Sea otters are primarily carnivores that hunt live prey such as clams, mussels, abalone, sea urchins, fish, and octopus. Sea otters are opportunistic eaters, which means they generally eat what is easiest for them to catch. When food is limited, sea otters may consume sea vegetation. Baby sea otters will drink only their mother’s milk until they are around 6 months old.

You might be wondering why sea otters eat these kinds of prey. We will explain why and how in this article.

Keep reading if you’d like to learn more about sea otters’ eating habits. Our guide will walk you through all the information you need about a sea otter’s diet.

Let’s dive in.

What do sea otters eat

What do sea otters eat?

1. Shellfish

A sea otter’s diet consists of many things, but shellfish is their favorite. They eat many kinds of shellfish, such as:

  • Clams
  • Mussels
  • Abalone
  • Scallops
  • Shellfish

Sea otters eat a lot of shellfish, up to 15 pounds daily. They are voracious eaters and will eat lots of the foods that they like.

They will dive down 150 feet to catch shellfish like clams and mussels. Once they have brought it to the surface, they will crack it with a rock.

They do this many times a day. A sea otter needs to eat a lot of food to keep warm.

Other sea mammals have a layer of blubber that keeps them warm, but sea otters don’t. So, they make up for this missing layer by consuming large quantities of shellfish.

As sea otters prefer prey like abalone, clam, and crab, they have been blamed for the decline in shellfish harvests. There have been many debates about whether sea otters are responsible for this.

Other factors come into play with the decline of shellfish. This includes disease, pollution, and overfishing from fisheries. These can also affect the sea otter’s lifespan.

2. Fish

River otters are typical consumers of fish, large and small. Fish make up a large portion of a sea otter’s diet daily.

Giant otters and river otters use their vibrissae (whiskers) to catch any nearby fish. Once they have detected fish, they will use their sharp teeth to collect the fish and grasp it with their paws.

Alongside having sharp teeth, they are also fast swimmers, allowing them to catch up with fast fish. Most sea otters catch easy, slow-moving prey.

Mother otters teach their pups how to catch fish until they are one year old. This is essential as fish are an important part of a sea otter’s diet and a necessary hunting skill to learn.

They consume the most fish in winter, up to 2 to 3 pounds daily. Fish are vulnerable during the winter, making them easier to catch.

Sea otters like to play and kill things they don’t want to eat. Many sea otters kill fish they don’t intend to eat.

They also prefer to hunt fish at night. Fish are easier to catch at night as they are docile, so sea otters like to kill them in this state.

3. Crabs

Sea otters are notorious for enjoying some crabs in their diet. Sea otters have many different methods of hunting they use to prey on crabs.

They will dive to the bottom of the sea floor to grab the crabs and bring them up to the surface. They will then use their paws to break up the shells and access the meat.

Sea otters can also visit rocky reefs and take a big rock. They will put the rock on their stomach and use it to smash open the prey’s shell for the meat.

Crabs are the central part of a sea otter’s diet. They can eat around 30 percent of their body weight and go through a lot in one day.

Some species of sea otter specialize in eating crab. This includes the Asian small-clawed sea otter and the cape-clawless sea otters.

The type of crab they eat depends on the habitat the crabs live in. For example, Dungeness crabs live hundreds of meters deep, and sea otters will only dive up to 75 feet.

4. Cephalopods

Sea otters also like to eat cephalopods such as octopuses and squid. They can take down large cephalopod species that even dolphins have died hunting.

Cephalopod meat provides sea otters with proteins, which other foods in their diet don’t provide. This is important for sea otters as it helps them grow strong.

Sea otters have been spotted eating giant Pacific octopuses that other mammals have died hunting. It is, however, unknown how they hunt these massive creatures down.

They do like fresh food and don’t eat already dead animals, so there is a possibility they attacked it themselves. This behavior has been seen in sea otters in Alaska and California.

The sea otters in northern waters like to feast on these octopuses. They usually eat them during the summer, when the octopuses appear more.

5. Birds

Sea otters also have a habitat for eating easy-to-catch birds. They will often target birds resting on the water or nearby rocks.

When they have spotted their prey, they will dive onto the bird and wrestle it. Sometimes they will attack from below and drag the bird underwater.

They use their sharp teeth to bite the bird’s head and neck. When the bird can no longer move, the sea otter will bring it back to the surface.

The sea otter will strip the bird of its feathers using its forepaws. This ensures they get the meat and not anything they don’t want.

Once the sea otter has its fill, it will discard the bird carcass. They often take 10-15 minutes to eat the bird.

Sometimes sea otters will feast on bird eggs from nearby bird nests. They only do this when the nest is nearby, as they like to have easy catches.

What do baby sea otters eat?

Sea otter pups will nurse from their mother for the first few months of their lives. Often, sea otters only give birth to one or two pups.

The mother provides them with milk while the pup is still blind. Once the pup gains its vision, it can eat tiny fish and some plants.

This period only lasts until the pup is two months old. At two months old, the pup will begin to eat what the mother hunts.

The mother will also teach the pup how to hunt during this item. This includes how to dive, kill and also avoid predators.

The pup will eat everything, such as everything we have mentioned above. They will learn the best ways to eat shellfish, crab, plants, fish, and birds.

Around 11 to 12 months, the pup can hunt independently. This is when the pup will leave its mother and find a mate to have more pups.

In conclusion

Sea otters have a varied diet, consisting of over 40 marine species. They have to eat up to 15 pounds of food daily to keep warm as they don’t have a layer of blubber.

What they eat depends on their preferences, what’s available and what they can catch. Sea otters aren’t picky and are voracious eaters.

They eat shellfish, clams, mussels, abalone, scallops, and shellfish. They also feast on fish, crab, cephalopods, and birds.

Sea Otters have many different hunting methods, such as diving under and tackling prey. They also have learned how to open the shells of hard-shelled prey, like crabs.

Sea otter pups will nurse from their mother for the first few months of their lives. After these months, the sea otter will be independent and hunt on their own.

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