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Sea otter picture and information (Latax lutris)

Sea otter picture and information (Latax lutris)Sea otters, distant relatives of land otters, are heavy-bodied animals, about 4 feet long, with broad webbed hind feet. When in the water they have a general resemblance to seals, whose mode of life is similar to theirs. Their fur is extremely dense and on the skins of adult males is almost black, closely sprinkled with long white-tipped hairs. The fur of prime skins has a silky luster, equaled in beauty by only the finest silver-tipped fox skins. For centuries sea-otter fur has been highly prized.

Otters are limited to the coasts of the North Pacific, where formerly they were incredibly abundant all the way from the shores and islands of Lower California to the Aleutians, and thence along the Asiatic coast to the Kuriles. Through excessive hunting, they are now extinct along most of this extended coast­line.

In the days of the Russian occupation of Alaska the discovery of the abundance of sea otters led to intense activity in their pursuit. Otter-hunting expeditions were organized by the Russians along the storm-swept coast from Unalaska to Sitka, sailing vessels being used as convoys for hundreds of Aleut hunters in their skin-covered boats. The loss of life among the hunters under their brutal task­masters was appalling and resulted in seriously and permanently reducing the native population of the Aleutian Islands. At the same time enormous numbers of sea-otter skins were taken. Afterward both English and American ships engaged in the pursuit of otters farther down the coast.

The first year after the discovery of the Pribilof Islands the records show that 5,000 sea otters were taken there. Many expeditions in other directions secured from one to several thousand skins. When sea otters were most abundant they were found all down the coast, even in San Francisco Bay, and one American trading vessel obtained 7,000 skins in a few weeks from the natives of the northern coast of Lower California.

The otters formerly frequented the shores of rocky islands and outlying reefs, but con­stant persecution has driven the few survivors to remain almost constantly at sea, where they seek resting places among kelp beds. They are now excessively shy and, aided by keen eyes and an acute sense of smell, are difficult to approach. When anything excites their curiosity they commonly raise the body upright, the head high above water, and gaze steadily at the object. If alarmed, they dive and reappear at a long distance.

Otter hunters report the animals very playful in pleasant weather, and sometimes floating on their backs and playing with pieces of kelp. The mother is devoted to her young and is said to play with it in the water for hours at a time. All efforts to rear the young in captivity have failed. The food of the sea otter is mainly of shellfish of various kinds, secured by them from the bottom of the sea.

Practically the only sea otters left among the hordes which once frequented the American shores of the North Pacific are now scattered along the Aleutian Islands.