A lesser known member of the otter family, the marine otter prefers the sea over fresh water rivers and estuaries. It bears more resemblance to the river otter, but lives and behaves more like a sea otter. They are smaller than most otters, reaching a total length of up to about 3.5 feet. Their fur is coarser and shorter than sea otters.
Unlike most otters, they prefer areas with intense winds and heavy waves, and avoid sandy beaches. They live on the rocky shores of Argentina, Peru and Chile. Their diets consist mostly of fish, crab and mollusks. Their teeth are more adapted to cut rather than crush.
Hunted for their fur, they were nearly wiped out, but today have slowly recovered under government protection. They are listed as endangered.
What Otters’ Penis Shrinkage Could Mean for Humans
by Marc Lallanilla
Scientists are concerned about the deformed sex organs of England’s otters — and what it might mean for humans.
The furry mammals are found in rivers throughout Britain, but male otters aren’t what they used to be. An alarming number of them now have shrunken penis bones (baculum), as well as undescended testicles (cryptorchidism) and cysts on sperm-carrying tubes, according to a new report written by Cardiff University scientists.
The results are based on analyses of samples from 755 otter carcasses collected around England and Wales between 1992 and 2009…
California sea otters, hunted to near extinction and more recently denied the chance to roam freely in the southern part of their coastal range, may now swim wherever they choose under a new policy announced by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.
The otters, whose numbers dropped below 15 at their low point two decades ago, have rebounded to a population of about 2,800. When that number reaches 3,090, the federal government could begin the process of taking the southern sea otter off the endangered species list, which categorizes the animal as threatened.
The formal end of the otter-free zone off the coast of California, announced this week, is a victory for environmental groups that objected to any efforts to control the natural migration of the species, which ranged from the western coast of Mexico to San Francisco before the animals’ glossy pelts made them a target of 19th-century fur traders…
Early humans linked to large-carnivore extinctions
Hominins could have triggered broad changes to the numbers and diversity of meat-eaters in Africa, researcher says.
by Jeff Tollefson (26 April 2012)
Animal lovers around the world know modern otters as cute, playful and unthreatening. But the mustelid’s giant cousins in ancient Africa may have engaged in a life-and-death competition with humanity’s ancestors — and come out on the losing end.
The demise of the gigantic ‘bear otter’ (Enhydriodon dikikae) was part of a broader decline in large-carnivore diversity in Africa, which accelerated around 2 million years ago — roughly the time that the first representatives of the genus Homo appeared on the scene. Lars Werdelin, a curator at the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm has been building a case that our forebears had something to do with the change. Although direct evidence of any causal connection is sorely lacking, Werdelin says, the transition in the carnivore fossil record coincides nicely with advances in tool-making and dietary shifts among early hominins.
“The way I see it, this is one of the first ways in which we manipulated our environment on a large scale,” says Werdelin, who presented his latest findings at a symposium on human evolution and climate change at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. Werdelin argues that hominins may have competed indirectly with some of these carnivores by occupying prime habitat, thus forcing the animals to change their behavior without ever coming into direct contact with them. In some cases, the hominins may have out-competed carnivores directly by forcing them to surrender fresh kills. Regardless, the emergence of early humans could have cascaded through the food chain — ultimately wiping out many of Africa’s larger meat-eaters…
Evolutionary history and identification of conservation units in the Giant Otter, Pteronura brasiliensis (2011)
by Pickles, Groombridge, et al.
The giant otter, Pteronura brasiliensis, occupies a range including the major drainage basins of South America, yet the degree of structure that exists within and among populations inhabiting these drainages is unknown. We sequenced portions of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) cytochrome b (612 bp) and control region (383 bp) genes in order to determine patterns of genetic variation within the species.
We found high levels of mtDNA haplotype diversity (h = 0.93 overall) and support for subdivision into four distinct groups of populations, representing important centers of genetic diversity and useful units for prioritizing conservation within the giant otter. We tested these results against the predictions of three hypotheses of Amazonian diversification (Pleistocene Refugia, Paleogeography, and Hydrogeology). While the phylogeographic pattern conformed to the predictions of the Refugia Hypothesis, molecular dating using a relaxed clock revealed the phylogroups diverged from one another between 1.69 and 0.84 Ma, ruling out the influence of Late Pleistocene glacial refugia.
However, the role of Plio-Pleistocene climate change could not be rejected. While the molecular dating also makes the influence of geological arches according to the Paleogeography Hypothesis extremely unlikely, the recent Pliocene formation of the Fitzcarrald Arch and its effect of subsequently altering drainage pattern could not be rejected. The data presented here support the interactions of both climatic and hydrological changes resulting from geological activity in the Plio-Pleistocene, in shaping the phylogeographic structure of the giant otter.
Did you know that we source our plush sea otters from one of the last remaining U.S. manufacturers, the Stuffington Bear Factory in Phoenix? Our staff recently visited the factory to see just how they’re made—by hand!
Wildlife Services’ Mammal Management Plan for Virginia (Kill Them)
by Ellie Pepper
According to Wildlife Services – a branch of the Department of Agriculture – mammals in Virginia, including river otters, coyotes, rabbits, and foxes, cost us a fortune but don’t provide us with any real benefits. That’s what the agency stated and implied throughout its Environmental Assessment for “Mammal Damage Management” (i.e., their plan to kill a whole bunch of mammals) in Virginia, the comment period for which closed on Friday.
While it’s true that wild animals do cause some damage, looking only at that side of the equation ignores the many positives (economic and otherwise) of keeping a diversity of species on the landscape. Unfortunately, Wildlife Services’ failure to analyze them is not an isolated phenomena. Fuzzy Math – a recently published, peer-reviewed NRDC study of Wildlife Services’ cost benefit practices – found that it is not uncommon for the agency to overemphasize losses caused by predators and minimize or discount any benefits. Wildlife Services has also consistently omitted the economic values to society that are lost when large numbers of species are killed…
Mmm, breakfast! This year marks the 10th year anniversary of Sea Otter Awareness Week, Sept. 23-29, to help inspire conservation of these beloved marine mammals. Includes films, lectures and other special activities. How will you celebrate?
The U.S. Geological Survey ‘s latest census of California’s sea otters shows a population still struggling to recover, with a record number of strandings recorded in 2011. The Aquarium has the only program in California with the facilities to treat, rehabilitate and release sea otters.
The Aquarium is sad to announce the death of Joy, its “Super Mom” who raised a record number of stranded sea otter pups, many of which were returned to the wild, where they’re raising pups of their own.
Joy, who was 14 years old, was humanely euthanized on August 1 in the Aquarium’s Animal Health Lab, because of failing health as a result of the infirmities of age.
The precocious sea otter was a keystone of the surrogacy program of the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. During her years at the Aquarium Joy raised 16 pups – more than any other surrogate in our history. She raised three pups on exhibit, helping prepare them for life at other U.S. aquariums. Joy did all this despite several medical setbacks during her years here…