Marine Otter, Lontra feline

The marine otter (Lontra feline) is a member of the weasel family, and can be found in South America. It prefers a habitat in rocky coastal areas, with a range that includes the entire coastline of Chile and extends to southern Peru and Argentina. It has been found on the Falkland Islands, but individuals here do not represent a constant population. Unlike other species of otter, the marine otter chooses to live near waters with high winds and swells. It may use caves and crevices as dens, but does not prefer to live on sandy beaches.

The marine otter can reach an average body length between thirty-three and forty-four inches, with a tail length of up to fourteen inches and a weight of up to thirteen pounds. It is smaller than most otters and there is no discernible difference in appearance between males and females. The fur on its upper body is dark brown, while the underbelly is light brown in color. Its guard hairs are rougher than those of other otters, and are grey in color. The diet of this species is not well known, but it is thought to consume fish, crabs, shrimp, and mollusks.

The marine otter can be found in groups of up to three individuals or alone and is active mainly in the daytime. When in the water, it is very difficult to see these otters, but they can be seen resting, eating, and grooming on the rocky shoreline. Although it is not known whether individuals hold territories on these rocks, both males and females can be seen fighting with each other.

The breeding season for the marine otter occurs between the months of December and January. This species may mate with many partners, or it can mate with one. After a pregnancy period of up to seventy days, a litter between two and five pups is born. The pups will remain with their mother for up to ten months and can be seen sitting on the mother’s belly while she swims. The mother will bring food to her pups during the ten-month period before they are fully matured and teach them how to hunt on their own during this time.

The marine otter was overhunted in the past for its fur and because it was thought to be a threat to local fisheries. Because of this, it was nearly wiped out on the Falkland Islands and in Argentina. It is now protected by law in Argentina, Peru, and Chile, although poaching does occur. It is not known how many of these otters exist in the wild, or how the species reacts to threats, so more information is needed to properly conserve it. In 1976 it was listed in CITES Appendix I,  and was listed as endangered U.S. Department of the Interior. It currently appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Endangered.”

Image Caption: Marine otter (Lontra felina) at Huachipa Zoo in Lima, Peru. Credit: Sakura1994/Wikipedia v