Sea Otters

Meet Emma and Clara, our Southern sea otters that are sure to steal your heart!

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is home to two, rescued Southern sea otters: Emma and Clara. Emma moved to New Orleans in 1999; after being separated from her mother at a very young age; Clara is the newest member of the sea otter family, she moved to New Orleans in November 2015.

At Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the sea otter custom-made habitat offers a 25,000-gallon exhibit with two large swimming pools at different depths, rock nooks, a waterfall, and a large behind-the-scenes area. Audubon's customized sea otter enrichment program includes a wide range of toys, treats and daily training. The training program is particularly important because it increases the bond between the animal and the husbandry staff, provides mental and physical exercises, and enables the animals to participate in their own health care. The training sessions are positive and fun so health care becomes stress-free when the otters participate voluntarily for weigh-ins and check-ups.

Sea otters have a very high metabolism ranking them among nature's most voracious consumers. They eat an amazing 20 to 30 percent of their body weight each day and their pricey seaside menu includes shrimp, crabs, squid, clams, mussels and other invertebrates. Because their diet includes so many shelled animals sea otters have become the only animals besides primates and a few birds that use tools (they use rocks or shells like hammers to break open their prey).

For our sea otters, that kind of diet can translate in to about 9 pounds of seafood per day! But it is all to help them maintain body heat. Otters stay warm in the cold water by producing their own body heat; they retain the warmth through incredibly thick fur—the densest fur of any mammal; their skin stays dry because otter fur repels water with natural oils; and the air trapped between their hairs acts as insulation. That is why you see the sea otters constantly grooming—they are fluffing their fur and forming air bubbles near the skin to create their own version of a wet suit!

Ironically, the sea otter's fur is its most important survival adaptation and the reason it is now an endangered animal. In the 18th- and 19th-centuries these animals were hunted for their pelts to near extinction. Through conservation efforts, their numbers have grown but they are once again facing a decrease in population due to diseases, pollutants, low food availability, oil spills, kelp harvesting and net entrapment. Protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, the Southern sea otter's range, which once spanned from Japan to Baja California is now limited to the Central California coast. Emma, and Clara are also under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has entrusted their care to Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. Come learn more about our sea otters rescue stories and watch them enjoy some of their favorite treats at our 2:00pm daily sea otter chat!