The smallest otter in the Americas!

The Marine Otter (Lontra felina) can be found along the western coasts of South America, primarily the intertidal zones of Peru, Chile and the southern tip of Argentina. They only rarely venture into freshwater, preferring to forage and swim in coastal waters. They are sometimes called the South American sea otter, the sea cat, chichimen, and gato del mar. Unlike their northern relatives, the fully aquatic sea otters, Marine Otters spend a lot of time on land and are able to move well out of water.

Unlike most freshwater otters, Marine Otters have coarse, thick fur as an adaptation for swimming in sea water. They are dark brown in color but usually have lighter fur on their bellies. Their tails are shorter than those of other otter species (relative to body length) and they have short, muscular limbs with webbed feet, which make them agile swimmers. They can grow up to 44 inches (113 cm) in body length, with a 14-inch (36 cm) tail. Adult male and female Marine Otters are roughly the same size.

The diet of Marine Otters consists mainly of creatures they can find in coastal waters, like cephalopods, crustaceans, and fish. They can dive up to 130 feet (40 meters) in search of food, with individual dives lasting up to 30 seconds. While they are not fiercely territorial, they do squabble over favorite rocky perches and will mark them with strongly-scented urine. Marine Otters have been observed to hunt cooperatively and feed on larger fish, but it is not known how widespread this behavior is.

While further study is necessary to fully understand the reproductive behavior of Marine Otters, it is likely that they form monogamous partnerships when food is scarce, but will mate with multiple partners in times of plenty. Breeding occurs late in the year (December and January), and cubs are born in the spring. Females give birth to litters of two to five cubs, and the cubs stay with their mother until they are about 10 months old.

Marine Otters are considered to be an endangered species by the IUCN, as hunting for fur and perceived competition for fish extirpated them from most of Argentina and depleted much of their overall population. More recently, habitat loss has prevented the Marine Otters from rebounding despite being protected by law in Peru, Chile and Argentina. Marine Otters are extremely charismatic and conservation efforts for these amazing creatures is starting to pick up, which hopefully bodes well for the species.

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