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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 20, 2001 - Issue 47


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 How Rabbit Stole Otter's Coat

The animals were of different sizes and wore coats of various colors and patterns. Some wore long fur and others wore short. Some had rings on their tails, and some had no tails at all. Some had coats of brown, others of black or yellow. They were always disputing about their good looks, so at last they agreed to hold a council to decide who had the finest coat.

They had heard a great deal about the Otter, who lived so far up the creek that he seldom came down to visit the other animals. It was said that he had the finest coat of all, but no one knew just what it was like, because it was a long time since anyone had seen him. They did not even know exactly where he lived, only the general direction, but they knew he would come to the council when the word got out.

Now the Rabbit wanted the verdict for himself, so when it began to look as if it might go to the Otter he studied up a plan to cheat him out of it. He asked a few sly questions until he learned what trail the Otter would take to get to the council place. Then, without saying anything, he went on ahead and after four days' travel he met the Otter and knew him at once by his beautiful coat of soft dark brown fur.

The Otter was glad to see him and asked him where he was going.

"Oh," said the Rabbit, "the animals sent me to bring you to the council, because you live so far away they were afraid you might not know the road."

The Otter thanked him, and they were on together.

They traveled all day toward the council ground, and at night the Rabbit selected the camping place, because the Otter was a stranger in that part of the country, and cut down bushes for beds and fixed everything in good shape. The next morning they started on again. In the afternoon the Rabbit began to pick up wood and bark as they went along and to load it on his back. When the Otter asked what this was for the Rabbit said it was that they might be warm and comfortable at night. After a while, when it was near sunset, they stopped and made their camp.

When supper was over the Rabbit got a stick and shaved it down to a paddle. The Otter wondered and asked again what that was for.

"I have good dreams when I sleep with a paddle under my head," said the Rabbit.

When the paddle was finished the Rabbit began to cut away the bushes so as to make a clean trail down to the river. The Otter wondered more and more and wanted to know what this meant.

Said the Rabbit, "This place is called Di'tatlaski'yi (The Place Where it Rains Fire). Sometimes it rains fire here, and the sky looks a little that way tonight. You go to sleep and I'll sit up and watch, and if the fire does come, as soon as you hear me shout, you run and jump into the river. Better hang your coat on a limb over there, so it wont get burnt."

The Otter did as he was told, and they both doubled up to go to sleep, but the Rabbit kept awake. After a while the fire burned down to red coals. The Rabbit called, but the Otter was fast asleep and made no answer. In a little while he called again, but the Otter never stirred. Then the Rabbit filled the paddle with hot coals and threw them up into the air and shouted, "It's raining fire! It's rain- king fire!"

The hot coals fell all around the Otter and he jumped up. "To the water!" cried the Rabbit, and the Otter ran and jumped into the river, and he has lived in the water ever since.

The Rabbit took the Otter's coat and put it on, leaving his own instead, and went on to the council. All the animals were there, every one looking out for the Otter.

At last they saw him in the distance, and they said one to the other, "The Otter is coming!" and sent one of the small animals to show him the best seat. They were all glad to see him and went up in turn to welcome him, but
the Otter kept his head down, with one paw over his face.

They wondered that he was so bashful, until the Bear came up and pulled the paw away, and there was the Rabbit with his split nose. He sprang up and started to run, when the Bear struck at him and pulled his tail off, but the Rabbit was too quick for them and got away.

Print and Color Your Own Sea Otter

Sea Otter

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Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris)

Sea Otters are playful animals that spend almost all their time in the sea. They eat, sleep, and even have their babies in the water. In the daytime sea otters float on their backs eating Abalone, their favorite food. To open the Abalone shell they place a small rock on their chest and smash the shell against it. Sea otters are one of the few mammals, beside humans, that use tools. They will use strands of kelp to tie themselves into the kelp beds for a secure night's sleep. They love to frolic with other otters and seals. Unlike seals and walrus, sea otters have no blubber to keep them warm in the cold arctic waters. Air trapped in their fur keeps them warm and bouyant. Oil spills can damage this fine fur and cause the otter to get very cold and die. That is why volunteers cleaned the sea otters so carefully after the oil spills in Alaska.

Sea otters also faced great dangers from hunters who wanted their valuable coats. They were hunted so heavily in the 18-19th Centuries that they had to be placed on the U.S. government endangered species list. Now the populations have come back to a large extent, but conservationists would like to continue to protect them. Fishermen would like them off the endangered species list in order to protect the abalone harvest.
"In 1760-65 when Bering and his party first explored the Aleutian Islands, they found the Sea Otters so numerous that the Aleuts wore long mantles made of their skins and a scrap of old iron was enough to secure the finest skin. In 1840 Veniaminov wrote that the Sea Otters in these islands are distinguished above everything on account of their great value and small numbers. There was a time when they were killed in thousands, now only by hundreds. There are plenty of places where before there were great numbers of Sea Otters; now not one is to be seen or found. The reason for this is most evident; every year hunted without rest they have fled to places unknown and without danger.

When the Fur Seal Islands were discovered the sea otters there were very numerous, and two sailors killed five thousand there the first year. The next year less than one thousand were killed, and from the end of the next six years to the present day the Sea Otter has been unknown there. From the Aleutian Islands south to Oregon the Russians found these otters so numerous that they were obtained in numbers running from two to three thousand kills per year. This great increase in the catch during the later years is entirely due to the greater vigor with which the animal has been hunted, and the introduction of fine long-range rifles. Good rifles now replace to a great extent, the primitive spears.

There is little doubt that in the course of a few years under the present regulations and mode of hunting, this valuable animal will be exterminated, and in place of affording the Aleuts a livelihood will leave them dependent upon the Government."

Sea Otter Questions and Answers

Natural History

Where do sea otters live?
Sea otters once ranged along the rim of the Northern Pacific, from Japan across the Arctic and down to Baja California. The population numbered between 150,000 to 300,000 animals. But fur traders seeking their lush pelts hunted the otters nearly to extinction in the 1700s and 1800s.

Today, there are small populations of sea otters along the coasts of Russia, Alaska and central California.

How many kinds of sea otters are there?
There are three subspecies: the Russian, Alaskan and California sea otters. The California subspecies is also called the Southern sea otter. They're all sea otters (Enhydra lutris), but each subspecies differs slightly in size and body shape.
California sea otter: Enhydra lutris nereis
Alaskan sea otter: Enhydra lutris kenyoni
Russian sea otter: Enhydra lutris lutris

Do they ever come ashore?
Sometimes, but they spend most of their lives in the ocean. Sea otters eat, sleep, mate and have their pups in the water. Occasionally, females come ashore to rest after mating, and any otter may beach itself if it's ill or injured. Remember, if you see an otter on the shore, leave it alone and ask other people not to disturb it.

Do sea otters live alone or in groups?
Sea otters live in loose-knit groups called rafts. Rafts typically consist of two or more resting otters. Rafts often sleep side by side, wrapped up in strands of kelp, so that they don't drift far from each other.

Males and females usually live in separate groups. Females have small home territories; they and their pups may gather in large groups. Mature males protect large territories, encompassing the territories of several females. On the outskirts of the range are rafts of bachelor males, too young or too old to hold their own territories.

How do sea otters keep warm?
They have the world's densest fur-up to a million hairs per square inch! (You've got 100,000 hairs or less on your whole head). A sea otter's normal body temperature is about 100° F, while the ocean is a chilly 35° to 60° F. Sea otters carefully groom their fur to trap a layer of insulating air bubbles between their warm skin and the icy water. But even that fur can't stop the loss of body heat. Sea otters have to stay active to stay warm.

What habitats do sea otters prefer?
Sea otters find prey along rocky shores, on sandy seafloors and in sloughs and estuaries. In California, sea otters are closely associated with the kelp forest. Many kinds of prey live on and among the kelp, and the otters often wrap themselves in kelp strands to stay close to their favorite feeding grounds.

Sea otters actually help the kelp forest to thrive by eating sea urchins. In southern California, where sea otters have not made a comeback, sea urchins can get so numerous that they nibble the kelp forest down to stubs. This is less likely to happen where otters are part of the ecosystem.

Food and Feeding

What do sea otters eat?

Sea otters eat many kinds of invertebrates, including clams, snails, sea stars, sea urchins, crabs, squid, octopuses and abalone. Alaskan sea otters also eat fish, but California otters seem to prefer invertebrates.

Aquarium researchers have discovered that each otter has its favorite foods-wild otters often hunt for only two to four of the more than 40 food animals on their menu. Mothers teach their pups to forage, and pups learn to hunt the same prey as their mothers. Some scientists think this may let more otters share the same habitat, because different otter families are hunting different types of prey.

How much do they eat?
Without blubber, otters lose a lot of heat to the water. They have to eat a lot to maintain their body temperature-up to 25% of their body weight per day. A 50-pound wild otter must eat about 13 pounds of food a day, just to stay alive. Because of their hefty appetites, otters sometimes come into conflict with people who fish for sea urchins and abalone.

How deep do they dive?
They can dive as deep as 330 feet and stay under as long as five minutes. However, a typical feeding dive lasts just a minute or two, in waters less than 60 feet deep.

Do they use tools?
A sea otter may use rocks to crack open hard-shelled prey at the surface, either setting a rock on its stomach while floating on its back, or holding rocks with its forepaws to pound its prey. Otters may also use rocks to pry up abalone and sea urchins. Around Monterey Wharf, some otters use discarded glass bottles in the same way!

How well can otters see, hear, smell and touch?
Otters have unusual eyeballs, adapted to see both above and below the water. But they use their sense of touch at least as much as their eyes. Their long whiskers help them detect vibrations in murky waters, and they use their sensitive paws to locate and capture prey under water. They seem to have an acute sense of smell and taste, but we don't really know how well they hear. They seem to be most sensitive to high-pitched sounds.

Do otters groom themselves a lot?
An otter's fur keeps it alive in the icy water, so each otter spends up to four hours a day grooming to keep its coat in good shape. You'll often see otters rolling in the water and rubbing themselves-they're cleaning their fur and rubbing insulating air into the hairs. They're extremely limber, and their skeletons are very loosely jointed, so otters can groom every inch of their bodies-even the middle of their backs.

How many pups do otters have?
Females usually give birth to one pup a year, although twin births occur occasionally. If twins are born, the mother abandons one because of the energy it requires to raise even one pup.

What's the gestation period for sea otters?
The gestation period for otters is about six months. The female otter is able to delay implantation of the fertile egg for two to three months. Some scientists suggest that this may help ensure that the pups are born when food is plentiful. The exact mechanism that controls implantation is not known.

How much do sea otters weigh when they're born?
Sea otter pups weigh three to five pounds when they're born.

Do otters mate for life?
Otters do not mate for life. At the time of mating, the male and female form a pair bond that lasts three or four days. Females sometimes mate with the same male in subsequent years, although not always.

Does the father help to raise the pup?
No, the father leaves the mother soon after mating, and he's not involved in any way with raising the pup.

Sea Otter
The sea otter (Enhydra lutris) lives in shallow water areas along the shores of the North Pacific. Its range once extended from southern California north then west through the Aleutian Islands, to the Kamchatka Peninsula, and south to the northern islands of Japan.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

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