Animals A-Go-Go

Sea Otters in Alaska

Apr 24, 2001
Outside Magazine

The mile-deep fjords and mist-softened forests of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula are home to a variety of impressive A-list wildlife: humpback whales, bald eagles, black bears. But we're betting that the animal your kids will most fall in love with in Alaska—and most envision buckling a collar around—will be the sea otter. Sea otters spend their days trying out new ways to do cute. In the tranquil coves of glacier-fringed Aialik Bay, they gather in large groups, or "rafts," to roll around, dive, hug, float, and roll around some more, interrupting their fun every now and then to use rocks to crack open mussels on their chests—in the most adorable way possible. Researchers have noted that otters form rafts not for protection from predators or for hunting; they get together to rest and help each other through rough seas.Though you may catch sight of them sleeping on icebergs as you glide past in a sea kayak, sea otters are often best observed from shore. Laying low on a beach, you can watch them cavort and listen to mothers and pups calling to each other across the water. Alaskan sea otters were hunted nearly to extinction in the early 1900s by Russian fur traders for their extraordinarily dense pelts, but their population had recovered to about 150,000 a few years ago, before scientists recorded the disappearance of large populations near the Aleutian Islands. One theory for the decline: orcas may have started turning to sea otters for food because seal and sea lion populations have also been slipping.
WHAT ELSE YOU'LL SEE: Land and river otters, Steller's sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles, puffins, auks, pigeon guillemots, cormorants, marbled murrelets.

MIGHT SEE: Black bears, salmon, coyotes, humpbacks, and orcas.

Filed To: Nature, Alaska