Continuing with my alphabetical series on "5" Star Photos we come to the Sea Otter. Admittedly, I don't have many ocean going animals even though I grew up in Maryland and lived in Western Washington for 18 years. Much of that time was spent fishing and not photographing. Once I became more interesting in photographing wildlife I spent in the interiors of British Columbia and Alberta. Yet, living near the Puget Sound did afford me a few animal photos.
The Sea Otter is a marine mammal native to the coasts of the North Pacific Ocean. Adult sea otters typically weigh between 30 and 100 pounds, making them the heaviest members of the weasel family, but among the smallest marine mammals. Unlike most marine mammals, the sea otter's primary form of insulation is an exceptionally thick coat of fur, the densest in the animal kingdom. Although it can walk on land, the sea otter lives mostly in the ocean.
The sea otter inhabits offshore environments, where it dives to the sea floor to forage. It preys mostly on marine invertebrates such as sea urchins, various mollusks and crustaceans, and some species of fish. Its foraging and eating habits are noteworthy in several respects. First, its use of rocks to dislodge prey and to open shells makes it one of the few mammal species to use tools. In most of its range, it is a keystone species, controlling sea urchin populations which would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystems. Its diet includes prey species that are also valued by humans as food, leading to conflicts between sea otters and fisheries.
Sea otters, whose numbers were once estimated at 150,000–300,000, were hunted extensively for their fur between 1700 and 1900, and the world population fell to 1,000–2,000 individuals. A subsequent international ban on hunting, conservation efforts, and reintroduction programs into previously populated areas have contributed to numbers rebounding, and the species now occupies about two-thirds of its former range. The recovery of the sea otter is considered an important success in marine conservation, although populations in the Aleutian Islands and California have recently declined or have plateaued at depressed levels. For these reasons, the sea otter remains classified as an endangered species.