Two southern sea otters swim at the Elkhorn Slough in California.

Two southern sea otters swim at the Elkhorn Slough in California.

Aniak, a sea otter who lived to age 19 at the Seattle Aquarium, is shown swimming with her baby. (AP/Ted S. Warren)

Aniak, a sea otter who lived to age 19 at the Seattle Aquarium, is shown swimming with her baby. (AP/Ted S. Warren)

Otters’ fur keeps them toasty warm, even in cold water. (Ronald Wittek/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Otters’ fur keeps them toasty warm, even in cold water. (Ronald Wittek/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Two Asian small-clawed otters compete for a piece of fish at the Sea Life Center in northern Germany. (AP/Heribert Proepper)

Two Asian small-clawed otters compete for a piece of fish at the Sea Life Center in northern Germany. (AP/Heribert Proepper)

An otter cleans itself in the water in Monterey, California. (AP/Paul Sakuma)

An otter cleans itself in the water in Monterey, California. (AP/Paul Sakuma)

Keeping the Balance

Posted: September 1, 2021

Male sea otters nap in the sun, clasping each other’s paws for stability. Female otters float with their young perched on their chests. Newborn otters, even more buoyant than adults, bob alongside like corks. Scientists say these critters are closely related to skunks, weasels, and badgers.

Sea otters are meat eaters and mammals, but they spend the vast majority of their lives in the water. God designed them to keep a marine ecosystem in balance.

Have you heard the expression “When the cat’s away the mice will play”? You could also say “When the sea otter’s away, the sea urchin will play.” Without otters to eat them, pesky urchin populations skyrocket. They begin to destroy Northern California’s bull-kelp forest. And coastal life without a kelp forest is treacherous. No kelp forest means no underwater hiding places, no food stores, and no nurseries to protect young coastal life.

Kelp forests protect otters too. They hide them from great white sharks. (Great whites don’t enjoy the big hairy test bite they take of otters. They move on. But one bite is enough to kill an otter.)

Fur . . . for Water!

Sea otters have the thickest fur of any creature in the world. So why would God assign this fuzzball to life in water?

Even while we’re thinking about sea otters we can join Isaiah in singing to God, “You have done wonderful things.” (Isaiah 25:1) Waters on the Northern California coast are cooooold. A human would need a wetsuit to stay warm in them. Sea otters need to keep their body temperatures around 100 degrees. But they don’t have blubber like other marine animals. They have fur instead.

Baby otters, in fact, have so much fur that they float! A baby otter’s floatie-coatie keeps the creature on top until it sheds and learns to dive.

Otter fur traps warm air close to the skin’s surface. During the dive, the outside of the fur gets wet and sleek. But the inside stays toasty and dry for a time. Eventually, each otter grooms its fur, restoring the air that gets pocketed inside.