The sea otter, Enhydra lutris, is a member of the Mustelidae that is fully aquatic. Sea otters are the smallest of the marine mammals, but they are also the most dexterous. Sea otters are known for their ability to use stones as anvils or hammers to facilitate access to hard-to-reach prey items. Furthermore, out of the thirteen currently known subspecies of otters, at least 10 demonstrate stone handling behaviour, suggesting that otters may have a genetic predisposition to manipulate stones.Tool use behavior is more associated with geographic location than sub-species. Most behavioral research has been conducted on Enhydra lutris nereis, the Californian otter, and some has been conducted on Enhydra lutris kenyoni, the Alaska sea otter. Sea otters frequently use rocks as anvils to crack open prey, and they are also observed to rip open prey with their forepaws. While lying on their backs, otters will rip apart coral algae to find food among the debris. The frequency of tool use varies greatly between geographic regions and individual otters. Regardless of the frequency, the use of tools is present in the behavioral repertoire of sea otters and is performed when most appropriate to the situation.
It is not possible to pin-point when sea otters began using tools consistently. It is hypothesized that certain behaviors were selected for, in the process of evolution, which led to this adaptation. The first instance of a rock as a tool may have occurred when an otter was unable to access a prey item at the bottom of the ocean and used a rock to facilitate access to the object. Similarly, an otter at the surface of the water may have chosen to crush two bivalves against each other when faced with an inability to crush the prey items with the forelimbs or teeth.Shellfish are found on rock structures at the bottom of the ocean, so collecting multiple rocks and shellfish from the bottom of the ocean in one diving episode and crushing the objects together on the surface may have led to the association of rocks with crushing shells of foods items. If a behavior which was performed in a conflict situation happened to open a prey item, an otter may have attempted to repeat the behavior and therefore learned to repeat the behavior consistently.
Sea otters commonly exhibit swimming behavior where they swim on their backs. The features which facilitate swimming on the back also facilitate tool use. Otters that do not use tools still feed on their backs. This habit of feeding on the surface with the chest up facilitates a flat surface for resting rocks and pounding items together (1).Once discovered and consistently performed by one or some otters, the tool use behavior may have spread through a population of nearby otters by horizontal social learning.
Tool use behaviors are observed in mammalian species where adults and their progeny have close ties. Mother otters have one pup at a time and sea otter pups are dependent on their mothers for an average of 6 to 7 months. Extremely young pups cannot swim or dive due to their natal fur coating, so they must be anchored to the mothers at all times. Otter pups therefore receive undivided attention from their mothers for prolonged periods of time.
Similarly, young otters are observed to be exceptionally active, curious, and playful. Selection may have favored certain kinds of manipulatory play.
Sea otters belong to the order Carnivora, whose members possess typical carnivoran teeth, or shearing carnassials. These are blade-like teeth formed by an upper premolar and lower molar. Sea otters have replaced their carnassial teeth with bunodont post-canines to improve their food crushing ability.These teeth favor a diet of aquatic invertebrates which is crucial to the otter's survival in the water.
Sea otters also belong to the family Mustelidae. When compared with other mustelids, such as the river otter, weasels, and minks, the sea otter shows distinct hindlimb anatomy which could contribute to propulsion and stability at the surface of the water while the forelimbs manipulate tools and food. E. lutris has significantly larger gluteus muscles than other mustelids.
Sea otter forelimbs are small and not used in swimming. Forelimb structure, particularly musculature and skeletal anatomy, are potentially adapted for, "tactile sensitivity and tool use associated with detection, handling, and consumption of prey".
The lower incisors of sea otters protrude and are shaped like spades, a shape which may facilitate their ability to scoop food out of shellfish.During consumption of sea urchins, otters use a tool or their paws to crack open the sea urchins and scoop out the gonads and viscera with the lower incisors (12). The canines are blunt, and the post-canines are bunodont. Their flat and broad shape is useful for chewing a combination of soft invertebrates and the harder parts of tougher invertebrates, like shell fragments and sea urchin tests.
Sea otters also have some of the largest lungs in the otter family, which may be helpful for buoyancy, especially because sea otters do not have blubber. Being buoyant along the length of the body allows otters to lie on their backs and manipulate food, tools, and young while on the surface of the water.
Underneath the arm of each sea otter, at the axilla, is a flap of skin that can store stones and food. The hind legs are long and flattened like flippers, and the tail is also flattened. The tail moves in an undulating motion for propulsion. Paws and vibrissae work in tandem to find and grasp prey underwater.
It was found that orphaned juvenile sea otters in a research facility spontaneously developed stone tool use, without observing any models.Relatedly, stone handling behaviours were observed in 10 out of the 13 currently known subspecies of otters, including sea otters. Together, both studies suggest a genetic component to stone behaviours in otters – as this would explain both its occurrence without models and its cross-occurrence across species that do not observe each other. Otters that use stones to open prey do not use stones every time they need to manipulate their prey. Crabs, for example, can be ripped apart by the forelimbs and then eaten. Otters will store a stone in the pouch of skin under the arm to eat prey with both forelimbs, such as crabs, and then retrieve the stone at a later instance. Otters have been observed to use a clam shell as a digging tool and as a pry tool as well. This seems to imply, "an anticipation of use that goes beyond the immediate situation". If a stone appears to be particularly good for opening one food item, it will be kept for several others. In an observation of an otter in Point Lobos State Park, it was seen than one otter ate 44 mussels in one feeding episode and only used six stones.
Sea otter development is marked by a six-month-long dependency period. Once an otter has adult-like swimming and diving behavior, can procure food by itself, and self-groom, it is considered independent.Until then, otter pups spend all of their time with their mothers. This is exacerbated by the fact that for the first three months of life, otter pups cannot swim or dive effectively. They are born with a natal pelage that differs in color and structure from adult pelage and is incredibly buoyant. This prevents them from submerging their bodies underwater and must be held or anchored to kelp.
Sea otter pups display a propensity for manipulating objects between their paws and regularly pound rocks and little bits of coral against their bodies in a random and curious manner. According to some of the earlier otter behavior biologists, Hall and Schaller, this, "tendency to manipulate and pound is far from stereotyped in its application and seems to prove the basis for learning the use of tools in feeding behavior".The first indications of tool use are observed at 5 weeks of age when pups will slap their forepaws against their chest. By ten weeks of age, they attempt consecutive dives with the same rock as they learn to swim.
Otters forage independently, except for females with offspring, who feed with their single young.Twins are observed but very rare. This allows for the mother otters to focus their attention on the pup, especially because mating occurs without pair bonding, so the father of the pup is not present. Pups express the same preferences in tools, technique, and diet as their mothers, which is potential evidence of vertical social transmission. Overall, stone behavior likely also has a genetic component - this follows from the development of this behaviour in the absence of models, and from the fact that stone behavior occurs across a wide range of otter species.
Mother otters appear to make sacrifices in order to help their pups. In Prince William Sound it was observed that, "the diet of females with pups was often of poor quality because the mothers frequently foraged on prey items that are easily captured by pups".
The foundation for observation studies of otters was conducted by scientists K. R. L. Hall and George B. Schaller in 1964. The scientists spent six days observing the Californian otters in Point Lobos State Park, California. Over the course of their time, they observed 30 separate instances of tool use behaviors, most of which involved otters using rocks to crack mussels.Since then, Californian sea otters have been studied extensively for their tool use behavior, garnering more attention to the subject, and serving as a model for what kinds of tool use behaviors the sea otter species is capable of performing.
Sea otters do not seem to express preference for stones and rocks of a particular shape (smooth, sharp, flat, irregular), instead choosing ones that fall between a size range of 6–15 cm (2.4–5.9 in), suggesting that size is more important than shape.
Otters go on dives with their tools stored in specialized pouches of skin underneath the arms. A sea otter may capture more than two different food items on a single dive.
In all populations of sea otters, soft-bodied organisms such as worms and sea stars are the least likely to be consumed with the aid of tools. On the other hand, shelled bivalves and snails with shells are the most likely to be cracked open with tools.Otters of the Northern Pacific consume mostly sea urchins and fish, thereby exhibiting less tool use behavior. Otters of the southern Pacific Ocean feed on tougher macro invertebrates such as bivalves.
In central California, sea otters feed mostly on sea urchins, abalones, and rock crabs. Rocks are used to knock abalones from the structure on which they are growing. Rocks can also be used to crack crab carapaces.Scientists have studied areas of California where up to 80% of abalone shells display crack patterns that are suggestive of breakage against rocks performed by otters. In areas near the Aleutian Islands, less tool use is recorded and sea otters consume much more fish. The diet in these areas also includes sea urchins, which otters can break with their forepaws, mollusks, and crustaceans.
Sea otters demonstrate at least three distinct methods of tool use. Two pertain to the use of stones and one pertains to the use of kelp as an anchor. Stones can be used as anvils, in which they are rested on the chest of an otter lying on the ocean surface. Hard prey items can be pounded against the anvil to create cracks and facilitate access to flesh. Stones can also be used as hammers, primarily to extract shellfish from their substrates. Other important aspects of otter tool-use behaviors include the use of tool composites and tool reuse. Tool composite is the term given to the combination of two rocks as an anvil and a hammer, separately, but used on the same prey item at once.Tool reuse is demonstrated by the use of the same stone in a variety of feeding opportunities over one large feeding period.
There have also been observed instances of tool use methods which do not involve stone or kelp, but rather parts of the prey itself. These have been specifically seen as otters taking pieces of shell or crab carapace.Otters will take advantage of nearby objects, occasionally using, "empty shells, driftwood, empty glass, or other discarded man made objects. Live clams are also pounded against each other".
Sea otters most commonly use stones as anvils. They do not express a preference for the shape of the stone or rock, but they do choose fairly large stones, between 6 and 15 cm (2.4 and 5.9 in), to rest on their chests. While all sub-species of otters use the forelimbs to rip open urchins, the Californian otters were observed to have used rocks as a surface to pound urchins and crabs, as well as mussels (observed most frequently). Otters seem to rise from a dive and immediately lie on the surface of the water with their chests up and place a stone on the chest to function as an anvil. The average length of a dive is 55 seconds. Otters hold mussels so as to orient the flat sides of the mussels against the "palms" of the paws and the seam of the two shells contacts the stone in a pounding instance. Mussels are pounded against rock or stones at a rate of two pounds per second. It takes approximately 35 blows to crack open a mussel.
In order to extract abalones from their substrate, otters demonstrate a hammering method by picking up rocks from the bottom of the ocean and hammering the abalone free from the substrate. Once on the surface, the otter may use the anvil method to continue to crack the abalone shell.Otters may also use a stone to hammer a prey item that is rested on the chest.
Otters commonly wrap crabs in strands of kelp to immobilize them and leave the wrapped crabs on the chest while the otter eats other kinds of collected prey from the ocean bottom.Sea otters are familiar with kelp as a wrapping agent because they wrap themselves in kelp to remain in one location at the surface during periods of rest, or during sleeping. Mother otters also wrap their offspring in kelp when they cannot rest the pups on their chests.
Intra-species variation is observed with regards to the Northern Pacific and the Southern Pacific. In Point Lobos, the use of tools to open mussels is very common. This behavior is distinctly less common in northern areas like the Commander Islands and Kuril Islands. There, adult otters only use tools if they are unable to open food items after trying first with their teeth.Alaskan otters do not use tools as often as Californian otters. Californian otters show multiple techniques with differences that are tailored specifically to eating bivalves and crabs.
A study that compiled seventeen years' worth of observational data demonstrated a significant difference between the occurrence of tool use in Amchitka Island, Alaska and Monterey, California. Alaskan otters used tools on 1% of dives, while Californian otters used tools on 16% of dives.
All otter pups generally use tools if their mothers did. However, females are more likely to use tools to crush their prey in situations where the prey does not necessarily require a stone. It is suspected that matrilineal transmission can explain the observed female sex bias.Female otters also display more variation in the types of tool-use methods they employ.
During long-term studies to record behavior, it is frequently recorded that some, individual otters do not use tools at all. Instead, these otters target soft-bodied prey like fish, or urchins which can be ripped apart with the forelimbs. Among tool using otters, up to 21% of the day can be spent engaging in tool use.In a study conducted from Alaska to Southern California, sixteen otter populations demonstrated that individual diet specializations are much more likely to be present in environments of rocky habitat over soft sediment substrates. Daughter Californian otters display the same tool techniques as their mothers, expressing explicit preference for certain methods when eating bivalves or eating crabs.
In an aforementioned study, which compiled 17 years of observational data on otters from southern California to the Aleutian Islands, it was discovered that anywhere from 10% to 93% of individuals in a population use tools.
Some otters have developed very specific, individual behaviors that do not necessarily demonstrate tool use, but do demonstrate dexterity. Individuals in California have learned how to tear open aluminum cans that float in the water from incidents of pollution. Small octopuses commonly reside in the cans and the sea otters attempt to eat the small octopuses.Others have learned to reach on the stern of small boats to obtain bait fish or squid.
Otters are not immune to paralytic shellfish poisoning, despite some popular belief that they are. However, they have the ability to manipulate their prey enough to avoid the paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins so that they do not consume lethal amounts. Alaskan sea otters prey heavily on the butter clam, which has the ability to retain toxins obtained from dinoflagellate blooms.Captive sea otters were fed live butter clams in a study designed to test toxin avoidance and the otters discarded the siphons and kidneys before eating the clams. Most of the toxins are concentrated in these organs.
Otters are carnivorous mammals in the subfamily Lutrinae. The 13 extant otter species are all semiaquatic, aquatic or marine, with diets based on fish and invertebrates. Lutrinae is a branch of the Mustelidae family, which also includes weasels, badgers, mink, and wolverines, among other animals.
Shellfish is a colloquial and fisheries term for exoskeleton-bearing aquatic invertebrates used as food, including various species of molluscs, crustaceans, and echinoderms. Although most kinds of shellfish are harvested from saltwater environments, some are found in freshwater. In addition, a few species of land crabs are eaten, for example Cardisoma guanhumi in the Caribbean. Shellfish are among the most common food allergens.
Marine mammals are aquatic mammals that rely on the ocean and other marine ecosystems for their existence. They include animals such as seals, whales, manatees, sea otters and polar bears. They are an informal group, unified only by their reliance on marine environments for feeding and survival.
An anvil is a metalworking tool consisting of a large block of metal, with a flattened top surface, upon which another object is struck.
The sea otter is a marine mammal native to the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean. Adult sea otters typically weigh between 14 and 45 kg, making them the heaviest members of the weasel family, but among the smallest marine mammals. Unlike most marine mammals, the sea otter's primary form of insulation is an exceptionally thick coat of fur, the densest in the animal kingdom. Although it can walk on land, the sea otter is capable of living exclusively in the ocean.
Haliotis cracherodii, the black abalone, is a species of large edible sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Haliotidae, the abalones.
Kelp forests are underwater areas with a high density of kelp, which covers a large part of the world's coastlines. They are recognized as one of the most productive and dynamic ecosystems on Earth. Smaller areas of anchored kelp are called kelp beds.
The red sea urchin is a sea urchin found in the northeastern Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Baja California. It lives in shallow waters from the low-tide line to greater than 100 m (330 ft) deep, and is typically found on rocky shores sheltered from extreme wave action.
Fahamore is a townland and small hamlet/village on the Maharees peninsula in County Kerry. It consists of about 50 houses and one pub, Spillane's. Fahamore was historically much more populated than it is now as evidenced by two old schoolhouses in the village, one dating from 1849 and the other from 1911.
The marine otter is a rare and relatively unknown South American mammal of the weasel family (Mustelidae). The scientific name means "otter cat", and in Spanish, the marine otter is also often referred to as gato marino: "marine cat". The marine otter only lives in saltwater, coastal environments and rarely ventures into freshwater or estuarine habitats. This saltwater exclusivity is unlike most other otter species, except for the almost fully aquatic sea otter of the North Pacific.
An ecological cascade effect is a series of secondary extinctions that are triggered by the primary extinction of a key species in an ecosystem. Secondary extinctions are likely to occur when the threatened species are: dependent on a few specific food sources, mutualistic, or forced to coexist with an invasive species that is introduced to the ecosystem. Species introductions to a foreign ecosystem can often devastate entire communities, and even entire ecosystems. These exotic species monopolize the ecosystem's resources, and since they have no natural predators to decrease their growth, they are able to increase indefinitely. Olsen et al. showed that exotic species have caused lake and estuary ecosystems to go through cascade effects due to loss of algae, crayfish, mollusks, fish, amphibians, and birds. However, the principal cause of cascade effects is the loss of top predators as the key species. As a result of this loss, a dramatic increase of prey species occurs. The prey is then able to overexploit its own food resources, until the population numbers decrease in abundance, which can lead to extinction. When the prey's food resources disappear, they starve and may go extinct as well. If the prey species is herbivorous, then their initial release and exploitation of the plants may result in a loss of plant biodiversity in the area. If other organisms in the ecosystem also depend upon these plants as food resources, then these species may go extinct as well. An example of the cascade effect caused by the loss of a top predator is apparent in tropical forests. When hunters cause local extinctions of top predators, the predators' prey's population numbers increase, causing an overexploitation of a food resource and a cascade effect of species loss. Recent studies have been performed on approaches to mitigate extinction cascades in food-web networks.
The Puget Sound king crab, Lopholithodes mandtii, is a species of king crab which inhabits the oceans of the Pacific coast of North America from Alaska to central California. Adults are orange, red and purple in color, while juveniles are either mostly orange or have small blotches of red and purple. They can be recognized by their blunt bumps on their carapace. Puget Sound king crabs are larger than the similar brown box crab, with an average size of 6-10 inches. They are protected by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, so it is not advised to harvest it. If, however, you are in B.C., Canada, the Puget Sound King Crab can be harvested. Hand picking by divers would be the most likely method. Daily limit of 1, possession 2.
Modern efforts in sea otter conservation began in the early 20th century, when the sea otter was nearly extinct due to large-scale commercial hunting. The sea otter was once abundant in a wide arc across the North Pacific ocean, from northern Japan to Alaska to Mexico. By 1911, hunting for the animal's luxurious fur had reduced the sea otter population to fewer than 2000 individuals in the most remote and inaccessible parts of its range.
Tool use by animals is a phenomenon in which an animal uses any kind of tool in order to achieve a goal such as acquiring food and water, grooming, defense, communication, recreation or construction. Originally thought to be a skill possessed only by humans, some tool use requires a sophisticated level of cognition. There is considerable discussion about the definition of what constitutes a tool and therefore which behaviours can be considered true examples of tool use. A wide range of animals, including mammals, birds, fish, cephalopods, and insects, are considered to use tools.
Gathering seafood by hand can be as easy as picking shellfish or kelp up off the beach, or doing some digging for clams or crabs, or perhaps diving under the water for abalone or lobsters.
Durophagy is the eating behavior of animals that consume hard-shelled or exoskeleton bearing organisms, such as corals, shelled mollusks, or crabs. It is mostly used to describe fish, but is also used when describing reptiles, including fossil turtles, placodonts and invertebrates, as well as "bone-crushing" mammalian carnivores such as hyenas. Durophagy requires special adaptions, such as blunt, strong teeth and a heavy jaw. Bite force is necessary to overcome the physical constraints of consuming more durable prey and gain a competitive advantage over other organisms by gaining access to more diverse or exclusive food resources earlier in life. Those with greater bite forces require less time to consume certain prey items as a greater bite force can increase the net rate of energy intake when foraging and enhance fitness in durophagous species. In the order Carnivora there are two dietary categories of durophagy; bonecrackers and bamboo eaters. Bonecrackers are exemplified by hyenas and saber-toothed cats, while bamboo eaters are primarily the giant panda and the red panda. Both have developed similar cranial morphology. However, the mandible morphology reveals more about their dietary resources. Both have a raised and dome-like anterior cranium, enlarged areas for the attachment of masticatory muscles, enlarged premolars, and reinforced tooth enamel. Bamboo eaters tend to have larger mandibles, while bonecrackers have more sophisticated premolars.
Profilicollis is a genus of acanthocephalan parasites of crustaceans. The status of the genus Profilicollis has been debated, and species placed in this genus were formerly included in the genus Polymorphus. However, research on the morphology of the group and their use of hosts has concluded that Profilicollis and Polymorphus should be regarded as distinct genera, and species previously described as Polymorphus altmani are now referred to as Profilicollis altmani in the literature. Profilicollis parasites infect decapod crustaceans, usually shore crabs, as intermediate hosts, and use many species of shorebirds as definitive (final) hosts.
The Cape clawless otter is a subspecies of African clawless otter found in sub-Saharan Africa near permanent bodies of freshwater and along the seacoast. It is the largest of the Old World otters and the third largest otter after the giant otter and the sea otter.
Randall William Davis is an educator and researcher who studies the physiology and behavioral ecology of marine mammals and other aquatic vertebrates. His physiological research focuses on adaptations of marine mammals for deep, prolonged diving. Davis has continually emphasized the importance of studying aquatic animals in their natural environment and has spent many years developing animal-borne instruments that record video and monitor three-dimensional movements, swimming performance and environmental variables to better understand their behavior and ecology. His academic endeavors and 94 research expeditions have taken him to 64 countries and territories on seven continents and all of the world's oceans.
The physiology of underwater diving is the physiological adaptations to diving of air-breathing vertebrates that have returned to the ocean from terrestrial lineages. They are a diverse group that include sea snakes, sea turtles, the marine iguana, saltwater crocodiles, penguins, pinnipeds, cetaceans, sea otters, manatees and dugongs. All known diving vertebrates dive to feed, and the extent of the diving in terms of depth and duration are influenced by feeding strategies, but also, in some cases, with predator avoidance. Diving behaviour is inextricably linked with the physiological adaptations for diving and often the behaviour leads to investigation of the physiology that makes the behaviour possible, so they are considered together where possible. Most diving vertebrates make relatively short shallow dives. Sea snakes, crocodiles and marine iguanas only dive in inshore waters and seldom dive deeper than 10 m. Some of these groups can make much deeper and longer dives. Emperor penguins regularly dive to depths of 400 to 500 m for 4 to 5 minutes, often dive for 8 to 12 minutes and have a maximum endurance of about 22 minutes. Elephant seals stay at sea for between 2 and 8 months and dive continuously, spending 90% of their time underwater and averaging 20 minutes per dive with less than 3 minutes at the surface between dives. Their maximum dive duration is about 2 hours and they routinely feed at depths between 300 and 600 m, though they can exceed depths of 1600 m. Beaked whales have been found to routinely dive to forage at depths between 835 and 1070 m, and remain submerged for about 50 minutes. Their maximum recorded depth is 1888 m, and maximum duration is 85 minutes.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to sea otter .|