Sea otter foraging behavior

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Sea otters are marine specialists but diet generalists, which feed primarily on benthic mega-invertebrates (i.e., body dimension >1 cm). They locate and capture epibenthic and infaunal prey with their forepaws by relying on vision and tactile sensitivity during short-duration dives (generally <2 min) in shallow waters (routine dives <30 m and maximum dive depth ~100 m) of the littoral zone. Sea otters have an elevated resting metabolic rate and small or no energy reserves in the form of blubber, so they feed every 3–4 h. Foraging dives often occur in bouts (i.e., two or more consecutive dives), which may last several hours with 1–2 min between dives, depending on the type of prey. Sea otters consume small or soft prey entirely or use their teeth or stone tools to access the flesh of mega-invertebrates with a shell, test, or exoskeleton. The daily percentage of time that sea otters devote to foraging depends on age, sex, presence of a pup, time of year, and prey abundance, which varies geographically, seasonally, and episodically. In areas occupied by sea otters for many years, epifaunal prey generally decline first followed by infaunal species, and this may result in greater foraging effort and diet specialization associated with density-dependent competition for food. Although prey availability strongly influences sea otter carrying capacity, both intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence population equilibrium density, resulting in spatiotemporal variations in foraging behavior.

Publication type Book chapter
Publication Subtype Book Chapter
Title Sea otter foraging behavior
DOI 10.1007/978-3-030-66796-2_4
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology MFEB
Description 25 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Monograph
Larger Work Title Ethology and behavioral ecology of sea otters and polar bears
First page 57
Last page 81
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