Kodiak, AK / Photography

Why sea otters put on a happy face

Sea otter, teeth, fur, Kodiak, Alaska, preening, kelp,

Which animal wins the prize for the densest fur on the planet? The sea otter. One million hairs per square inch. That’s more hair than on a black lab dog. All that hair means extra warmth–and work–for sea otters. Let me explain.Sea otters spend 95 percent of their lives in the water.

Cold water.


You’d think a few million hairs would keep anything warm and toasty. Nope. Sea otters lack insulation. Blubber that whales and sea lions have to fend off cold. But not sea otters.

So how do they stay warm in cold water?

It’s all about grooming. Sea otters are floating spas. They spend much of their time grooming. Which means cleaning fur, untangling knots, removing loose fur, rubbing the fur to squeeze out water and introduce air, and blowing air into the fur. Grooming is a matter of life or death.

Grooming also involves scratching one’s belly, nibbling toes, and making funny faces.

As you can see, grooming antics make nature photographers happy.

The story behind the photo

One morning we were out on our boat in Kodiak, Alaska viewing wildlife with guests. Lots of binoculars, field guides, cameras, and long lenses. Someone in the group spotted a sea otter nearby. He was wrapped in a seaweed “seat belt” and massaging his neck and cheeks with his paws. It all seemed so businesslike when suddenly his face erupted into a giant grin. I laughed out loud into the back of my camera.

An impressive set of choppers, don’t you think?

Remember, these guys crunch on crabs, clams, sea urchins, and an occasional octopus. Hard and chewy stuff. According to Science Magazine, sea otter teeth are twice as tough as human tooth enamel.

The next time you sit down to a seafood dinner, think of our sea otters.

Seas and greetings from Kodiak, Alaska,

P.S. Share this photo with your dentist to encourage patients to brush and floss their teeth!

More resources and links to like:

Traveling to Kodiak?
Information about our Kodiak, Alaska wildlife viewing cruise and our Cliff House B&B.
My photos and overview of Alaska nature photography | Kodiak wildlife photography | Horned puffin

Puffins, sea otters and more: My photo essay, Life at Sea, that published in Alaska Magazine


  • Velda
    August 18, 2016 at 6:13 PM

    Interesting information on the cute guy ! Thanks, always enjoy your news.

  • Melissa
    August 18, 2016 at 5:12 PM

    Ha, ha, – Love your photo! Scratching bellies, nibbling toes and doing yoga…similar to what my cat does every day. Maybe they are related. Thanks for the laugh, M.

  • Bonnie Elsensohn
    August 18, 2016 at 4:49 PM

    That was delightful, Marion. Thank you for sharing the story and the cute critter.

  • Diana Thompson
    August 18, 2016 at 4:06 PM

    HI Marion,
    Great photo of the smiling Sea Otter!! Who would have thought they had such impressive teeth!!
    Thank you!


Leave a Reply