July 28, 2020
Otter Fur: More than Fluff
- as seen by -Francesca Banaag
All of the animals at WCS’s New York Aquarium have different adaptations and physical features that are important for their survival. Harbor seals have a pattern that helps them camouflage on pebbled beaches, penguins have an outer layer of feathers that link together to make a waterproof shield of sorts, and sea otters (Enhydra lutris) have their fur.
Otters don’t have a thick layer of blubber like seals and sea lions, instead they have a very thick layer of fur that insulates them – the densest fur of any mammal. In just a square inch, which is the about the size of the space between your finger and thumb if you make an “OK” sign with your hand, an otter has anywhere from 500,000 to 1,000,000 hairs. The fur has two layers, a warm fuzzy underfur, and an outer layer that protects the underfur. Otters spend a large portion of their day grooming their fur because it’s so important for their well-being.
If you have visited the aquarium, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of our resident sea otters, Jacob and Quint (above), grooming. Otters are super flexible and have the capability to reach every part of their body so they can keep their fur clean. They are even conscious about their fur even when they eating. During a sea otter training session, the otters swirl and wiggle around while they eat. They are making sure the oil from their food (mainly clams and shrimp) never has a chance to settle in their fur. This makes their post-meal grooming a lot easier.
As otters gets older, it could become harder for them to groom. In the wild, this could be detrimental to their survival, but at the aquarium, we train our otters to allow us to assist with their grooming. The otters are learning to allow us to comb and even blow dry their fur.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to all our staff that care for the animals. We are grateful for the work they do.