Mothers are great. When you are little, they help feed you and teach you how to take care of yourself so that when you grow up, you can be independent.

Sea otter mothers have to really, really work hard to support their babies, called pups. Because sea otters live in cold water with no insulating fat to keep them warm, they have to eat a lot.

How much? A sea otter may spend up to half of its day just looking for food. Since sea otter pups aren’t big enough to get their own food until they are about 6 months old, their mothers have to find almost twice as much food to feed their pups.

All of that work finding food can be hard on sea otter mothers, making them lose weight or become so weak that even little wounds or infections can kill them.

With such high demands on them, many sea otter mothers die since they become pregnant every year. Or, sometimes, the mother otter will abandon its young pup. Abandoning a pup may give the mother a better chance to successfully rear a pup the following year.

Skinny females having a hard time feeding themselves and their pups are more likely to be found at the center of the sea otter’s range – along the central coast of California. They are less likely to be found at the northern and southern edges of their range, maybe because there is less competition for food. This may be one way that nature controls the number of otters in more crowded areas.

— Brett French

Gazette Outdoors editor

Outdoors editor for the Billings Gazette.

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