Otters holding paws

31 03 2007

I noticed this video on YouTube among those featured on the main page, and it makes me wonder about otter behavior beyond the “Awww”s from the crowd;

In the wild, sea otters wrap themselves in kelp when they go to sleep so they don’t drift away. While there are predators within the kelp environment, the chances of getting hit by a great white shark are greater at the surface outside of the kelp forests. I can’t help but wonder if this “hand holding” behavior from the aquarium stems from the need to feel secure when asleep, a wild behavior that has been deferred to one that merely looks cute to the casual observer. Even if I’m wrong in the sense of the otters need to feel physically connected to something else, perhaps it reflects the need to feel (dare I say it) emotionally secure. For those who have read the book Born Free, you’ll recall Elsa was described as sucking Joy Adamsons thumb whenever she felt nervous. What reason the otters would have to feel nervous/insecure in the aquarium, I don’t know, but I can’t rule it out. If the otters are indeed a “couple,” other mammals have been known to have pair bonding behaviors, some primates sitting together with tails entwined during their courtship. Granted, the examples of Elsa and primates may not apply because behavior is not standard across the board for mammals, but I simply bring them up to convey the possibilities for why this behavior was exhibited. While I have no proof and I’m not an expert, I prefer the physical security hypothesis, but I could be entirely wrong.

Update: Upon some further research, there seems to be anecdotal evidence of otters sleeping together in groups called “rafts” and holding paws to stay together, a phenomenon also seen sometimes with youngsters and their mothers. Once again, whether this is for physical security, emotional security, or (likely) some combination thereof is not mentioned. In my opinion, it probably serves a dual purpose of making the otters feel physically secure and also assists with bonding of individuals in a group, so it seems to be advantageous from either viewpoint. Also, I owe a thank-you to WordPress for featuring this post as the “Blog of the Minute.”




One response

7 04 2007
Marc Verhaegen

Very beautiful! Thanks a lot.
I think your explanations may be correct.
We’re discussion this at

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: