Why These Adorable Sea Otters Hold Hands While Sleeping

Two sea otters floating on their backs.

Why do sea otters hold hands while sleeping? (Image: Stevehymon via Dreamstime)

Sea otters are furry, immaculate, and intelligent. But why do sea otters hold hands while sleeping? The answer to this may be hidden in an adorable video of sea otters holding hands while sleeping that will make you love them even more.

So why do sea otters hold hands? Is it a sign of affection, or is it for practical reasons? And how do they choose who to hold hands with?

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Otters have been seen holding hands, forming floating groups known as “rafts.” They mainly do this when sleeping, eating, or relaxing to prevent themselves from drifting away from their family and partners. In addition, otter moms wrap sea plants around their young ones so they don’t float out at sea.

Here are more reasons sea otters cuddle together, plus more interesting facts about them.

Only sea otters have been seen holding hands, but they don’t do it all the time. Also, they can keep hands (or paws) because they float with their stomachs up. (Image: Erin Donalson via Dreamstime)

Why do sea otters hold hands?

There are several theories on why sea otters hold hands (or paws). First, as mentioned, it helps them stay together. Otters are social animals that love staying in groups. They ensure their partner or family doesn’t drift away by holding hands. 

Sea otters may also hold hands with their partners to keep them away from other males. There is always competition for females from other males, and this may be a way to show that she’s taken.

Another reason may be to protect themselves. Sleeping on land makes them vulnerable to predators and poachers. So they find a place near the shore where the water is calm, roll on their backs, hold their hands, and enjoy their snooze. 

Lastly, some researchers believe that they float in groups to stay warm. For example, sea otters may have dense fur to keep them warm, but they don’t have much body fat like polar bears or whales. So floating together can help them share their warmth and support each other from freezing.

Sometimes, male or female otters hold hands with their mature young ones to keep them close. Their young ones rarely sink because of their buoyant coat or fur, but currents may carry them away.

However, very young otters can’t hold hands when sleeping, making them vulnerable in the sea. So to keep them close, you will see them riding on their mother’s stomachs. And otter mums carry their pups everywhere with utmost dedication.

When hunting, sea otters wrap their pups in kelp or seaweed to keep them in one place. That way, the parent can locate them quickly. 

How do sea otters choose who to hold hands with?

Otters don’t just hold hands randomly; they choose their partner or a family member. Their excellent sense of smell helps them tell each other apart. 

Adults also wrap themselves in long strands of kelp, providing a natural anchor. Kelp grows from the sea bed to the surface holding the otters in place while they relax. This way, they can moor together as a group and stay close to their food sources.

Sea otters may also hold hands with their partners to keep them away from other males (Image: Denise Peterson via Dreamstime)

Do all otters hold hands while sleeping?

Only sea otters have been seen holding hands, but they don’t do it all the time. Also, they can keep hands (or paws) because they float with their stomachs up.

On the other hand, river otters don’t hold hands because they sleep on land, so there’s no danger of drifting away. You will only notice their head or nose above water. They also float or swim facing downwards with most of their body underwater.

Intriguingly, river otters are faster swimmers than their sea counterparts. In addition, they are light and have four-webbed feet that help them dash across rivers with speed. In contrast, sea otters have two webbed feet, and males can reach a whopping 90 pounds compared to a 30-pound full-grown river otter male.

Sea otters (being wild, of course) also have aggressive mating behavior. When mating, male otters may bite the females on their noses or neck so hard that it leaves pink scars. Sometimes, they bite the nose off completely. Researchers use these distinct pink scars to tell one female otter from another.

Saving the sea otters

Hunters seek sea otters for their expensive fur pelt. As a result, they were hunted aggressively, almost to extinction, during the Maritime Fur Trade era (the mid-1700s to early 1900s). It is estimated that around a hundred years ago, only about 2,000 sea otters were left. 

Today, their numbers have bounced back to more than 100,000. Still, they are an endangered species because of oil spills and fishing nets. So it’s up to humans to protect these cuddly, curious, and clever sea mammals.

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