We visually observed 1,251 dives, of 14 sea otters instrumented with TDRs in southeast Alaska, and used attribute values from observed dives to classify 180,848 recorded dives as foraging (0.64), or traveling (0.36). Foraging dives were significantly deeper, with longer durations, bottom times, and postdive surface intervals, and greater descent and ascent rates, compared to traveling dives. Most foraging occurred in depths between 2 and 30 m (0.84), although 0.16 of all foraging was between 30 and 100 m. Nine animals, including all five males, demonstrated bimodal patterns in foraging depths, with peaks between 5 and 15 m and 30 and 60 m, whereas five of nine females foraged at an average depth of 10 m. Mean shallow foraging depth was 8 m, and mean deep foraging depth was 44 m. Maximum foraging depths averaged 61 m (54 and 82 for females and males, respectively) and ranged from 35 to 100 m. Female sea otters dove to depths 20 m on 0.85 of their foraging dives while male sea otters dove to depths 45 m on 0.50 of their foraging dives. Less than 0.02 of all foraging dives were >55 m, suggesting that effects of sea otter foraging on nearshore marine communities should diminish at greater depths. However, recolonization of vacant habitat by high densities of adult male sea otters may result in initial reductions of some prey species at depths >55 m.
Additional publication details
Foraging depths of sea otters and implications to coastal marine communities