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Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Although surprisingly nimble on land, the marine otter is adapted for life in the water and can be seen swimming with the head and upper back out of the water and the body submerged. It makes frequent 15 to 30 second dives to a depth of 40 metres whilst searching for fish, cephalopods, crustaceans and molluscs. It has also been recorded eating shore-side fruit when in season. It emerges from the sea to eat, rest and play on rocky islets and it will also scent mark with pungent urine to claim these rocks as its own. Marine otters will fight over food and favoured rocks, squealing loudly and biting each other's faces. Despite this, otters are not strongly territorial, and the ranges of many males and females overlap. They have even been seen to fish cooperatively (2). The reproductive behaviour of the marine otter is poorly understood, but they are thought to be monogamous unless both prey and potential mates are abundant, when they mate with many partners. Mating occurs in December and January and cubs are born from January to March in dens or concealed areas amongst rocks and vegetation. Between two and five cubs are born and these remain with their parents for around 10 months as they are fed and taught to hunt for themselves (2).
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Description

The smallest of the New World otters, the marine otter displays charisma, charm and dexterity. Males and females look alike with a long, slim body, a flat head with a wide, whiskered muzzle, and a shorter tail than other otter species. They have small ears, a stubby nose and powerful teeth that slice efficiently through flesh. The legs are short but muscular and the feet are large and webbed for agility and speed underwater. The fur is rough and coarse, in contrast to the smooth fur of freshwater otters. It is dark brown above fading slightly towards the underside. The tail is darker, but the chin, cheeks and throat are pale brown. The marine otter's nose is furry and has two slit-like nostrils that can close underwater (2).
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Distribution

Marine otters, Lontra felina , are found along the Pacific Coast from northern Peru south along the coast of Chile to the southern tip of South America. Lontra felina is also found in isolated populations in Argentina.

(Brack Egg, 1978; Brownell, 1978; Cabrera, 1957)

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native ); pacific ocean (Native )

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Range Description

The marine otter Lontra felina lives along the Pacific coast of South America from 6°S to 56°S along the Chilean coast to Cape Horn, Straits of Lemaire and Isla de Los Estados in Argentina (Brack Egg 1978, Brownell 1978, van Zyll de Jong 1972). It is also present in isolated populations in the Strait of Magellan and on Staten Island in Argentina (Cabrera 1957, Parera 1996).
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Historic Range:
Peru south to Straits of Magellan

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Range

The marine otter is found along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, from northern Peru south to Cape Horn, Chile and the Isla de Los Estados, Argentina (1).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Lontra felina, otherwise known as marine otters or sea cats, is the smallest and most distinct species of the genus Lontra. The average total length of L. felina is 900 mm. The coat is dark on the back and on the sides, and paler ventrally. Marine otters have a short tail and fully webbed feet. They also have large vibrissae, stiff whisker-like hairs above the upper lip and at the corners of the mouth.

(Harris, 1968; van Zyll de Jong, 1972; Redford and Eisenberg, 1992; Lariviere, 1998)

Range mass: 3 to 5 kg.

Average mass: 4.5 kg.

Average length: 900 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

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Ecology

Habitat

Lontra felina is the only species of the genus Lontra that is found exclusively in marine habitats. Generally, marine otters inhabit areas with strong winds, heavy seas, and a high diversity of rock fishes, molluscs, and crustaceans. Lontra felina prefers to occupy areas with rocky outcroppings (often with caves high above the water and tunnels connecting the land and water). This species spendsmost of its time in the water, but does use the rocky shore areas in which it resides, especially during the breeding season.

"Outcroppings with large rocks contain more caves, harbor more prey, and offer better protection from predators" (Lariviere, 1998).

Perhaps because of their preference for rocky shores, marine otters have never been found along the sandy beaches of the Atlantic Patagonian coasts.

(Ostfeld et al., 1989; Castilla and Bahamondes, 1979; Lariviere, 1998)

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

Other Habitat Features: intertidal or littoral ; caves

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Lontra felina is the only species of the genus Lontra that is found exclusively in marine habitats. It uses coastlines with range extending approximately 30 m inland and 100-150 m of sea offshore (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979). The species inhabits marine areas exposed to heavy seas and strong wind (Cabello 1978; Ostfeld et al. 1989) and prefers rocky shores with caves that are above water at high tide, as well as areas with large algae communities offering a wide abundance and diversity of prey species (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979). Sandy beaches offer marginal habitat (Sielfeld 1989) and typically are used only for travel between dens and water (Ebensperger and Castilla 1992). Marine otters are, for the most part, restricted to marine waters, but may occasionally travel up freshwater rivers in search of prey (Brownell 1978; Cabello 1978; Redford and Eisenberg, 1992). Because not all coastlines are suitable, marine otters are found in disjunct populations throughout their distribution range (Redford and Eisenberg 1992).

The marine otter diet is composed mostly of invertebrates, including crustaceans (decapods, shrimps, and crabs) and mollusks (bivalves and gastropods), and vertebrate prey, including fish from the families Blennidae, Cheilodactylidae, Gobiesocidae, and Pomacentridae, and occasionally birds and small mammals (Cabello 1978; Castilla and Bahamondes 1979; Ostfeld et al. 1989; Sielfeld 1990a). Along the Valdivian coast in the south of Chile the diet of marine otter consisted of 25 species; 52% (13/25) of the species identified were crustaceans, 40% (10/25) were fish, and 8% (2/25) were mollusks. Crustaceans were found in 78% of 475 spraints, 100% of 929 prey remains, and 90.8% of prey determined by direct observation, fish in 20% of spraints and 9.0% of prey determined by direct observation, and mollusks in 2% of spraints and 0.2% of prey determined by direct observation. Observed seasonal variation in prey availability was reflected in the otter diet. Fourteen prey species were trapped; 43% (6/14) were crustaceans and 57% (8/14) fish, crustaceans were 93% of 566 trapped individuals, fish 7%. L. felina showed opportunistic feeding behavior, selecting prey seasonally according to their availability rather than to their energy input (Medina et al. 2004).

Some analyses have found that fruits (Greigia sphacelata, Fascicularia bicolor) may also be consumed on occasion (Brownell 1978; Cabello 1978; Medina 1995). Marine otters may compete with gulls (Larus) and the South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) for similar species of prey fish (Cabello 1978). The most important natural predator of the marine otter is the killer whale (Orcinus orca; Cabello 1978), but adults also may be killed by sharks (Parera 1996) and birds of prey may capture juveniles when on land (Cabello 1983).

The marine otter is most likely a monogamous species. Mating typically occurs during December or January (Caballo 1978) with gestation of 60-65 days (Housse 1953; Sielfield 1983). Parturition usually occurs from January to March. It takes place in a den or on shore between rocky outcroppings and vegetation. The litter size varies from two to four young, with two being observed most frequently. Young marine otters remain with their parents for approximately ten months. Adults transport their young by carrying them in their mouths or resting the young on their bellies as they swim on their backs. Both adults in the monogamous pair bring prey back to the den to feed their young (Parera 1996). When not breeding, marine otters are mostly solitary. The group size is seldom more than two to three individuals. Its activity pattern is generally diurnal, with peaks of activity noted in early morning, mid-afternoon, and evenings. Marine otters are much more agile in the water than on land.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Freshwater
  • Marine
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Rarely found in freshwater, the marine otter prefers exposed coastal areas, tolerating rough conditions and enjoying regions with a variety of fish, molluscs and crustaceans (1).
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Trophic Strategy

The marine otter's diet mainly consists of invertebrates (including crustaceans and molluscs), fish, and occasionally, birds and small mammals. Periodically, fruits are also consumed. Marine otters spend 63 to 70% of their time catching and feeding on prey.

(Ostfeld et al., 1989; Castilla and Bahamondes, 1979; Lariviere, 1998)

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; eggs; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans; echinoderms; other marine invertebrates

Plant Foods: fruit

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats non-insect arthropods)

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Associations

Known prey organisms

Lontra felina (Lutra felina) preys on:
Fissurellidae
limpets
Decapoda
Concholepas concholepas
Sicyases sanguineus

Based on studies in:
Chile, central Chile (Littoral, Rocky shore)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • J. C. Castilla, Perspectivas de investigacion en estructura y dinamica de communidades intermareales rocosas de Chile Central. II. Depredadores de alto nivel trofico, Medio Ambiente 5(1-2):190-215, from p. 203 (1981).
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: tactile ; chemical

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Reproduction

Lontra felina is most likely a monogamous species. Mating typically occurs during December or January.

After a gestation period of 60 to 65 days, parturition usually occurs from January to March. It takes place in a den or on shore between rocky outcroppings and vegetation. The litter size varies from two to four young, with two being observed most frequently.

Young marine otters remain with their parents for approximately ten months. Adults transport their young by carrying them in their mouths or resting the young on their bellies as they swim on their backs. Both adults in the monogamous pair bring prey back to the den to feed their young.

(Ostfeld et al., 1989; Housse, 1953; Lariviere, 1998)

Breeding interval: These animals breed once annually.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in December and January.

Range number of offspring: 2 to 4.

Average number of offspring: 2.

Range gestation period: 60 to 65 days.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous

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Conservation

Conservation Status

L. felina is classified as endangererd by the IUCN and is listed in CITES in Appendix I. Habitat destruction, pollution, and illegal poaching have resulted in the declining population of this species. The current remaining population is estimated to be less than 1000 individuals.

(Castilla and Bahamondes, 1979; Lariviere, 1998)

CITES: appendix i

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A3cd

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Alvarez, R. & Medina-Vogel, G.

Reviewer/s
Hussain, S.A. & Conroy, J. (Otter Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
This species is listed as Endangered due to an inferred future population decline due to habitat loss and exploitation. The marine otter has a restricted distribution along the Pacific coast from northern Peru along the Chilean coast to Cape Horn and Isla de Los Estados in Argentina. It is patchily distributed from Peru to Tierra del Fuego. Its distribution north of 39°S latitude is becoming highly fragmented because of exploitation, pollution and increased human occupation along the seashores. Poaching is still present in many regions, especially south of 39ºS latitude, where there is little or no enforcement of protective legislation. The greatest threats to its continuous existence are accelerating habitat destruction, degradation, and competition for prey, accidental kill in crab pots and poaching throughout the range. Its original range has decreased considerably because of excessive hunting (Redford and Eisenberg 1992), and the species has been nearly exterminated from the regions of Cape Horn and southern Tierra del Fuego (Brownell 1978) as well as from the northern extremities of its former range (Chehebar 1990). Based on current rates of decline and trends, these threats are estimated to result in future population reductions of at least 50% over the next 3 generations (30 years) unless conservation measures are strengthened.

History
  • 2004
    Endangered
  • 2000
    Endangered
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1996
    Endangered
  • 1994
    Vulnerable
    (Groombridge 1994)
  • 1990
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN 1990)
  • 1988
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
  • 1986
    Vulnerable
    (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
  • 1982
    Vulnerable
    (Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 06/14/1976
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Peru south to Straits of Magellan


Population detail:

Population location: Peru south to Straits of Magellan
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Lontra felina, see its USFWS Species Profile

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Status

The marine otter is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix I of CITES (3). It is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4).
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Population

Population
The population of Lontra felina probably consisted of <1,000 individuals (Nowak 1991). Its largest population remains in the west coast of Chiloe Island and in southern parts of Chile (Cabello 1978). During 1999-2000, in southern Chile, an average of 3.8 observable otters/km were recorded, with significant differences between sites but no systematic trends with regard to seasons. Observable pups were recorded year-round (Medina-Vogel et al. 2006). Along the Peruvian coast the population is estimated to be 200-300 marine otters (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979).

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Habitat destruction, pollution, and poaching/excessive hunting are the major threats to marine otters in South America (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979; Chehebar 1990; Estes 1986; Iriarte and Jaksic 1986). The original range of Lontra felina has decreased considerably because of excessive hunting (Redford and Eisenberg 1992) and the species has been nearly exterminated from the regions of Cape Horn and southern Tierra del Fuego (Brownell 1978) as well as from the northern extremities of its former range (Chehebar 1990). Illegal trade in pelts was still relatively frequent in southern Chile in the 1990s (Macdonald and Mason 1990), as the price paid for a single pelt was equivalent to the wages an unskilled worker could earn in 2-3 months, and the probability of being caught and fined for poaching was very low (Miller et al. 1983). The largest populations of marine otters remain along the west coast of Chiloé Island and in southern parts of Chile, where there is not only very little information about hunting, habitat conservation, and the status and distribution of otter populations, but little enforcement of otter protection measures. In Argentina, L. felina is on the verge of extinction and may persist only on the eastern coast of Tierra del Fuego and on Staten Island (Chehebar 1990; Parera 1996).

In addition to hunting, marine otters may be killed incidentally by fishing activities (Brownell 1978), or persecuted and killed directly for alleged damage to local fish, bivalves, and shrimp populations (Miller et al. 1983; Redford and Eisenberg 1992). Fishery overexploitation of crabs and mollusks in some regions of the coast may be a major threat to otters due to the reduction of available food sources.
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This species suffers myriad threats from many sources. The marine otter has been hunted for many centuries for its pelts which are used mainly for footwear. This has resulted in continuing population declines across the range. More recently, the marine otter has also been subjected to habitat loss as a growing tourism industry has led to increased coastal construction and participation in water sports. Water pollution following oil spills and heavy metal mining, over-fishing of prey species, persecution by fishermen, and drowning in crab traps and fishing nets are also contributing to this charismatic species' decline (2).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
It is listed in Appendix I of the CITES (Nowak 1991). The marine otter is protected in Argentina, Chile, and Peru.
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Conservation

The marine otter is legally protected in Peru, Chile and Argentina and occurs in several protected areas, but human poverty levels are high along the coasts and the pelt of one marine otter is worth the same as a month's wages. With poor law enforcement, hunting is an attractive source of income and both a change in public attitude to otters as well as increased law enforcement are necessary in order to slow the decline of this species. Conservation work is becoming more common in South America and it is hoped that this will create a higher level of awareness in the public about the marine otter's plight (2).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Marine otters have been captured and killed for their competition with humans for prey. Fisheries suspect that marine otters cause damage to local fish, shrimp, and bivalve populations.

(Larivier, 1998; Redford and Eisenberg, 1992)

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Marine otters are often illegally captured and killed for their pelts, which are used for footwear, especially boots. While illegal, harvesting marine otters is a fairly frequent occurrence in Chile, as the potential of being caught and fined is low.

Lontra felina is also sometimes trained, domesticated, and used by fisherman. Young marine otters are easily bottle-fed, and adults seem to adapt well to freshwater ponds and food items given to other domestic animals. Play behavior has also been observed between L. felina and other domesticated animals.

(Macdonald and Mason, 1990; Lariviere, 1998)

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Wikipedia

Marine otter

Not to be confused with sea otter.

The marine otter, Lontra felina, is a rare and poorly known South American mammal of the weasel family (Mustelidae). The scientific name means "otter cat", and in Spanish, the marine otter is also often referred to as gato marino: "marine cat". The marine otter spends much of its time out of the water and rarely ventures into freshwater or estuarine habitats, unlike the almost fully aquatic sea otter (Enhydra lutris) of the northeast Pacific and most other otter species.

Geographic range[edit]

Marine otters are found in littoral areas of southwestern South America, close to shore and in the intertidal areas of northern Peru (from the port of Chimbote), along the entire coast of Chile, and the extreme southern reaches of Argentina.[1] Occasional vagrant sightings still occur as far afield as the Falkland Islands.

Physical description[edit]

Marine otters are relatively small, and among otters, only the oriental small-clawed otter is smaller. Lengths range from 83 to 113 centimetres (33 to 44 in), not counting the tail of 30 to 36 centimetres (12 to 14 in). Weights can range from 3 to 5.8 kilograms (6.6 to 12.8 lb).[2] Their fur is dark brown on the back and light brown on belly. The guard hairs cover short insulating fur with a grayish color. The fur is coarser and tougher than in sea otters.

The front and hind paws are webbed, and there are four teats.

The marine otter's lower jaws contain eight pairs of teeth, and the upper jaws eight or nine pairs. The teeth are developed for slicing rather than crushing.

Sexual dimorphism in this species not readily apparent.

Habitat and diet[edit]

The marine otter mainly inhabits rocky shorelines with abundant seaweed and kelp, and infrequently visits estuaries and freshwater rivers. It appears to select habitats with surprisingly high exposure to strong swells and winds, unlike many other otters, which prefer calmer waters. Caves and crevices in the rocky shorelines may provide them with the cover they need, and often a holt will have no land access at high tide. Marine otters avoid sandy beaches.

Little is known about the diet of marine otters, but their primary prey is believed to be crab, shrimp, mollusks, and fish.

Behavior and reproduction[edit]

Marine otters are most often seen individually or in small groups of up to three. They are difficult to spot, swimming low in the water, exposing only their heads and backs. It is not known whether they are territorial, as males are occasionally seen fighting, yet fights have also been observed even between mating pairs. Fighting takes place on prominent rocks above the waterline, which are also used for resting, feeding, and grooming. Marine otters have also been observed feeding cooperatively on large fish, but it is not known how common the practice is.

The otters are diurnal, primarily active in the daytime.

Marine otters may be monogamous or polygamous, and breeding occurs in December or January. Litters of two to five pups are born in January, February or March after a gestation period of 60 to 70 days. The pups remain with their mother for about 10 months of parental care, and can sometimes be seen on the mother's belly as she swims on her back, a practice similar to that of the sea otter. Parents bring food to the pups and teach them to hunt.

Conservation status[edit]

Marine otters are rare and are protected under Peruvian, Chilean, and Argentine law. In the past, they were extensively hunted both for their fur and due to perceived competition with fisheries. Hunting extirpated them from most of Argentina and the Falkland Islands. Poaching is still a problem, but one of unknown magnitude. It is unknown how many marine otters exist in the wild or what habitats should be preserved to encourage their recovery. Marine otters were listed under CITES Appendix I in 1976, and are listed as endangered by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

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