Cute, Definitely, But No Role Model
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We humans tend to assign human characteristics to the animals we observe, often based on their appearance. Sometimes, however, appearances can be misleading.
Louisa and I were walking on a fishing pier in Monterey, a few evenings ago. We were about 50 yards offshore. I looked out into the water and saw an object bobbing up and down in the waves. It was a Sea Otter, one of the iconic life forms of Monterey Bay. At that moment, the otter was too far away to photograph. We walked on, to the end of the pier, and returned. On our way back I looked at the water near where we’d seen the otter and I was delighted to discover that the otter — a male — had drifted within a few feet of the pier. He was lying on his back, his paws tucked against his chest, and half asleep.
Sea Otters are among the cutest animals that one can encounter. Their very dense fur — up to a million hairs per square inch of skin — gives them the appearance of cuddly teddy bears. Their mannerisms — their tendency to lie on their backs as this one is doing — only add to the cuteness factor. They are highly intelligent, eternally inquisitive, and extremely playful at times. In other words, they are altogether huggable.
Looks can be deceiving, however. These animals are voracious predators. Lacking the body fat of other marine mammals, Sea Otters must eat almost constantly in order to stay warm in the cold Pacific waters. An adult Sea Otter consumes up to 25% of its weight (a male Sea Otter weighs about 65 pounds) per day in crabs, abalone, other invertebrates, and occasionally, fish. They have a predator’s temperament. Males are territorial and can be quite aggressive towards other males.
Towards females, it only gets worse. Male Sea Otters have a lot in common with motorcycle gang members when it comes to relations with the opposite sex. Males have been known to rape resisting females. There are accounts of males kidnapping cubs from their mothers and holding them hostage until the mothers deliver food as ransom. There are some documented accounts of males sexually violating harbor seal pups.
So, look closely at this guy. What is he really thinking?
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 70-200mm f4L IS zoom lens, ISO 640, aperture preferred setting. All shots taken at f7.1. The first and fourth images were taken @ 1/400, the second image @ 1/320, and the third image @ 1/250.