Foraging behavior and prey of sea otters in a soft- and mixed-sediment benthos in Alaska Academic Article uri icon


  • Sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) foraging behavior and prey preference were studied from June to August 2001-2004 in Simpson Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska. The study area has an average water depth of 30m and a benthos primarily of soft- and mixed-sediment with no canopy-forming kelps. A total of 1816 foraging dives from 211 bouts were recorded. Overall, dives ranged in depth from <5 to 82m; most dives were less than 15m (40%) with smaller, secondary peaks at 25-30m (10%) and 50-55m (7%). Average dive depth and duration were 27m±19.5 and 1.89min±0.88, respectively. Dive durations were all significantly different: male>unknown>female. Dive depths reflected the bathymetry (percentage of the bay within a depth range) of Simpson Bay but favored shallow areas. 87% of foraging dives were successful, and 44% of the prey was positively identified: 75% clams, 9% Pacific blue mussels, 6% crabs, 2% Reddish scallops and a variety of other invertebrates. There was no evidence for prey specialization among the sexes. Although sea otters in Simpson Bay rely heavily on bivalves, their diet has remained unchanged for the past 18 years, and the minimum summer population has been constant for at least the past nine years. It appears that bivalves are the predominant and stable component of the diet, and their productivity is sufficient to sustain a stable population of sea otters with a minimum peak summer density of 4.3 adult otters km -2 and an average annual density of ca. 2.9 adult otters km -2 for the past nine years and probably longer. © 2012 Deutsche Gesellschaft für Säugetierkunde.

author list (cited authors)

  • Wolt, R. C., Gelwick, F. P., Weltz, F., & Davis, R. W.

citation count

  • 16

publication date

  • July 2012