Peter Castiglione, age 12, of Visalia, CA
What happened to the sea otter?
A few years ago, the California newspapers announced happy tidings, Some sea otters had been sighted and photographed off shore. The news was joyful because it was feared that these most handsome of mammals had deserted these waters forever. Now, it is hoped, the numbers will grow.
At one time the playful sea otter was very plentiful and eager to be friendly' But the handsome fellow fell a victim to man‑the‑hunters His pelt sold for $125, and he almost joined the long sad list of extinct animals. Nowadays he is protected by international law ‑ no one dare hunt him or sell his luxurious fur.
He is, of course, the big sea going cousin of the graceful otters of the fresh water streams and lakes. He may be four feet long, plus another foot of tapering tail. He may tip the scales at 80 pounds. His legs are short and strong and the back feet are webbed. His ears are round and small and his dark eyes bright and alert. He wears the same sweet pixie expression as does the fresh water otter. His dense soft fur is brownish black, Frizzled with a few white guard hairs.
Though he is an air breathing mammal, the sea otter is born, lives, eats, sleeps and plays in the sea. Mama Sea Otter is perhaps the most affectionate mother in the entire animal kingdom. Her one little pup, eyes wide open, is usually born on a bed of floating kelp. in this swaying cradle, he is washed, cuddled and fed on mother's milk. If separated, mother and baby both wail like a couple of heartsick children.
When searching for food, Mama hides her darling in the seaweed and dives perhaps 100 feet for shellfish, her favorite diet. She dines floating: on her back, using her fat tummy as & table and. her dainty front paws as knife and. fork.
Junior too, will soon be taught to float, for this is how a sea otter spends much of his time. He will learn to swim at 10 miles an hour, to dive and stay below for five minutes or more. He will learn to scratch himself with all four feet at a time and. above all, he will learn to play. Until he is six months or more, he will rush towards Mama for her approvel. Chances are, he will find her floating on her back. He will climb up and she will hug him to her bosom with soft furry arms. When Junior sleeps, curled up in Mama's arms, his little front paws are crossed over his chest and. his back paws crossed. over his tummy.
All these delightful antics take place off shore where people can see them. This is even more fun than watching the seals, so no wonder the people of California were glad to learn that the sea otter may be returning to his old haunts.