Sea otters only weigh up to around 100 pounds. So how is it that they eat three times more calories than the average human in one day, clocking in at about 25 percent of their body weight?
First, scientists answered the "why" part of this question. Otters live in cold water but don't have any blubber to keep them warm and cozy. Instead, they have to burn through food to keep their body temperatures up.
But researchers weren't sure how, logistically, otters were able to devour so many snacks. Many of their favorite fishy foods live at the bottom of the ocean, where it's difficult to see. On top of that, otters are only able to dive down underwater for five minutes at a time.
And how can they grab so much food with their cute little paws?
That's really the question researchers set out to answer. It turns out that otters basically have a superpower: They have an amazing sense of touch.
They know immediately, even in murky water, whether they're grabbing a rock or a tasty clam.
It was surprisingly difficult for researchers to figure out how sea otters hunt. Otters tend to be shy on camera, and the bottom of the ocean where they hunt can be too murky for filming, anyway. To figure it out, researchers ended up enlisting the help of a rehabilitated sea otter living at the UCSC Marine Laboratory.
They had that otter, named Selka, wear a blindfold and swim around an experimental setting. Inside the setting were slots for paw, behind which were grooves of plastic of varying lengths. If she touched a particular groove of plastic, she got a treat.
The team tested her to see how quickly she could identify a 2-millimeter groove from a 3-millimeter groove and a 2.1-millimeter groove that were all in the same place.
Using her just her paws and whiskers, since she was blindfolded, it took Selka only a fraction of a second to find the right one.
Meanwhile, it took 15 seconds for humans performing the test.
This may have been an experiment with just one clever otter, but it mirrors the results from similar tests with seals, walruses and manatees. it looks like sea creatures are just really good at feeling out their prey. Sea otters may only really need 30 seconds on the ocean floor to find their food.
Without access to places like the Cheesecake Factory, where it's really easy to consume 7,500 calories rather quickly, their special sense of touch is even more important.