The sea otter, Enhydra lutris (trans. ‘otter of the sea’) is an animal that is impossible to hate. Indeed, many have tried, only to see their efforts at hating sea otters fall completely flat.
That said, vigorous attempts were made at hating sea otters – or at least strongly disliking them – in the 18th and 19th centuries, when they were nearly hunted to extinction for their warm pelts. Unlike other sea mammals, sea otters lack a layer of blubber. Instead, sea otters stay warm via fur that sports nearly a million hairs per square inch. This fur density gives great softness and warmth, which in turns gives people ideas for spiffy hats and jackets.
Though they are now protected, sea otters remain an endangered species. This is yet another thing that makes them impossible to hate – nobody wants to be the person who says anything bad about an adorable animal that’s had such a bad collective go of it. That would be beyond the pale. Plus, being an endangered species allows them to justifiably claim that they are made of such awesome parts that people are willing to kill every single one of them to get some more of said parts.
Beyond their fur and claim to fame as an endangered species, sea otters bring much more to the ‘cool table.’ First of all, they lead great lives. Sea otters are like that guy you knew in high school who came from a great family with a lot of money, with doting parents who were still together, and who was always super good-looking and athletic. He was bright and popular, and because he’d never really struggled to fit in or faced any difficulties, he was super happy and nice to everyone. Try as you might to resent that guy, he was so friendly that you ended up liking him and wishing you could be more like him, which you couldn’t be because your family was weird and your parents weren’t that into you and had no money. Also you had really bad acne.
Remember that guy? Sea otters are that guy.
Consider some of the characteristics of sea otters: They spend a lot of time goofing off. They are one the only marine mammals to use tools, opening mollusk shells by smashing them against rocks. During the 80% of their free time spent floating/goofing around on their backs, they keep from drifting out to sea by wrapping themselves in kelp, which shows amazing mammalian resourcefulness (imagine what they could do with a chemistry set!) They can catch prey in their paws and their mouths.* They can reach any part of their bodies. They can hold their breath for five minutes. All this with nary a lick of blubber. Just like that guy you knew from high school.
Drunk on life, an otter smashes a mollusk against a rock on its chest
‘Sure,’ you say, ‘but we’ve all been to zoos and know that otters are fun and worth pushing small children aside to see closer.’ OK, but did you know that sea otters are a keystone species in their ecosystem? If you do know that, then nevermind. But if you didn’t, there you go. And if you don’t know what a keystone species is, don’t feel bad. Neither does Bill Gates. And that guy from high school wasn’t worried about knowing keystone species because he was probably gonna take over his dad’s siding business anyway.
A keystone species is a species that has a far greater impact on its ecosystem in proportion to its relative abundance. Sea otters eats sea urchins, protecting kelp forests from being devoured by too many sea urchins. Because if the kelp forests go away, so goes the whole entire ecosystem. In other words, sea otters save the day simply by doing what they do. Which is the height of cool. Just like when that guy you knew was on that ski weekend at his parents’ lodge in Aspen and went off the trail to find better powder and ended up finding a lost hiker.
A sea otter with what is probably kelp
That guy from high school
So like that guy from high school, it’s very hard to find anything unlikable about sea otters. And vice versa. The only thing preventing sea otters from getting an ‘A’ is that, like that guy you knew in high school with the perfect life and the relentlessly sunny disposition, they’re so contented from such an early age that they’ll probably never do anything that great.
*Try it. Not easy.