Incredibly Cute Sea Otters

Location: Inian Island, Icy Strait, southeast Alaska

Comments: Had a fabulous day of diving around Inian Island today. Hit the slack current at “Wall of Life” which is an amazing dive. The current at “Inian Wall” turned a wee bit late (7 hours and 45 minutes after the previous slack which is very strange) but all of our scuba diving guests really enjoyed that dive as well. Then we finished the day off with a splash on “Susan’s Hooters” which is always a favourite despite being located off the outer exposed coast and subject to swell and chop. I should point out that Susan was very definite in naming this site and that the name is not in any way sexist or degrading!

We typically observe lots of “cute” sea otters in this area which is pretty darned good considering that it was once believed that they had been hunted to extinction by fur traders. A pocket of survivors were later discovered on an island in the Aleutians and bred and transplanted to this part of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California where there has been good recovery of the populations. There is something very appealing about sea otters. Perhaps it’s the way they swim on their back much the way scuba divers do. Perhaps it’s because they appear to be so cute and cuddly and furry (they have the densest fur of any animal with over 1 million hairs per square inch which is what provides them with insulation in our less than tropical temperatures!). Maybe it’s because the Mum’s carry their babies around on their tummies as they float upside down and then wrap and stash their kids in the kelp before going for a dive. Or, as we saw last week, the Mum’s will throw a protective arm over their baby when startled and roll over and dive under the kelp with the babe. That is some pretty impressive breath hold diving for those babies!

The flip side of this is that a number of marine biologists I know are not very keen on sea otters and see them as mean, ornery and a pain in the you-know-where. We even heard a story about a male sea otter that was preying on female harbour seals by biting them on their head and then attempting to sexually assault them (note that I haven’t been able to verify that story). I can tell you that sea otters are either extremely brave or very self confident judging from what I saw today – just imagine a colony of big, ferocious stellar sea lions with lots of them hauled out and maybe a hundred or more animals swimming around in the water. To my utter astonishment, I observed one wee little sea otter swimming around on his/her back in the middle of all these sea lions – some of whom seemed to me posturing aggressively towards the sea otter. Amazing but the sea otter came out unscathed. It is just plain great being out here and being able to see all this stuff.

–Captain Mike


Weather: Low overcast, pouring with rain, 15 – 20 knots of wind, northwest swell outside, choppy inside, air temperature low 50’s. Not a nice day unfortunately but at least the Nautilus Explorer is nice and cozy and warm.

Water: Water temperature 45°F, visibility 20 feet.

By Nautilus Staff

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