Marine Otters Pictures, Stock Photos, Images, Illustrations

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Marine Otters, Lontra felina, Pictures, Stock Photos, Images and Illustrations

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Marine otters are little-known, seldom photographed relatives of river otters that occupy a marine habitat like sea otters. They are the smallest marine mammal and are found primarily in Chile and Peru on the west coast of South America. They are endangered and greatly in need of increased protection and conservation efforts if they are to survive as a species.

Marine otters live in isolated populations along the west coast of South America in a range that extends from northern Peru, through Chile, around the tip of Cape Horn, to the southeast coast of Argentina. They may also be found in very small numbers in the Falkland Islands, where they were introduced (unsuccessfully) as a source of fur in the 1930s.

Because marine otters are in the genus Lontra, they bear more of a resemblance to river otters, their taxonomic cousins, than to sea otters (genus Enhydra). Like river otters, they nest on land, whereas sea otters spend almost their whole lives in the ocean. Nevertheless, marine otters have a similar diet to sea otters, and they are hunted by many of the same ocean predators. The marine otter range and sea otter range do not overlap, as marine otters are found exclusively in South America, while sea otters are only found along Northern Pacific coasts. Marine otters have not been observed using tools like sea otters.


Marine Otter Picture
Picture of Marine otter, Lontra felina, endangered, Chiloe Island, Chile, Pacific Ocean Image #: 067846

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Suborder: Caniformia/Canoidea

Family: Mustelidae/Mustelids

Subfamily: Lutrinae

Genus: Lontra

Specific: felina

Species: Lontra felina

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Adult marine otters are about 1 meter in length (39 inches), including the tail and weigh about 4.5 kg (10 lbs), which makes them slightly smaller than New World river otters and about 2/3 the size and weight of female sea otters. They are not dimorphous, so male and female marine otters are similar in size.

Marine otter fur is coffee brown with blond ends, and the underbelly and chin is often lighter in color than the body. Fur is course and semi-erect, which may provide some protection from scrapes in the otter's rocky environment. Their claws are not especially sharp, and their feet are webbed, as are those of all New World otters.

Marine otter habitat is typically an exposed, rocky shoreline where the otters can quickly find cover in the crevices between the rocks, or among rock-hugging plants. They dine on crabs, shellfish and fish, and they will venture into estuaries and upriver in pursuit of freshwater shrimp. They forage in the daytime and so are diurnal, as opposed to river otters, which are generally active at night.

Marine otters are usually found alone, in pairs or groups of three. They do not appear to be aggressively territorial, as they tolerate other otters in their range. Nevertheless, marine otters have been observed fighting on rocks.

Marine otter breeding season is December and January, and two to five babies are born in the months of February and March. Pups initially stay in their dens waiting for their mothers to return, but after a few months, they venture out with their mothers, learning to forage and hunt. They are on their own from about 10 months after their birth.

Marine otters are the prey of killer whales (Orcinus orca), sharks and raptors. In their South American coastal environment, they compete for food with sea lions, gulls, cormorants, Magellanic penguins and small cetaceans. Southern river otters (Lontra provocax) may compete with marine otters for food in areas where their ranges overlap, but they tend to occupy different habitats.

The IUCN lists the marine otter as endangered, with a likelihood of a 50% reduction in their numbers in the next 10 years. Their biggest threat is loss of habitat. People are building vacation homes in coastal areas that were formerly undesirable because they were useless for agriculture. Home development brings recreational boating and water sports, which further disturb this shy creature.

Kelp forests, where marine otters forage, are being intensely harvested for processing into various food products, such as thickening agents and emulsifiers. Reduction of the kelp forests brings a corresponding drop in available prey for the otters. Pollution, such as heavy metal discharge, and oil spills from the oil drilling industry, continue to damage marine otter habitat.

Hunting and poaching have always been a problem, as an otter pelt can bring a nice price in the boot making industry. Additionally, some otters get caught accidentally in crab traps and gill nets, or are simply exterminated by fishermen, who view them as pests. Marine otters are ostensibly protected in Chile, Argentina and Peru, but enforcement is lax.

Alternate names: Marine otter, Sea Cat, Chungungo, Loutre de Mer, Chichimen, Chinchimen, Chingungo, Gato de Mar, Gato Marino, Huallaca, Nutria de Mar

Marine otter information assembled from on-line sources by Kevin Miller on May 20, 2008 for