Sea otters are interspecific rapists. You’ve all seen those pictures of the cute sea otters holding hands? Talk about taking a photo out of context. Yes, they do link with one another in what is called a raft to keep from floating out to open sea. Yes, it makes for a great postcard or hipster meme. What many fail to understand is, these rafts consist primarily of male sea otters. Yup, dudes holding hands off the coast of Monterey. Not that it freaks me out or anything. Nope, nothing like that at all. But You haven’t heard the worst of it yet. My academia escapes me, so I’ll make this short and informal.
Sea otters are rapists. When they mate, male sea otters often bite down on the nose (muzzle) of the female to exact dominance over their mate. Male sea otters are polygynous; having more than one female partner (this is very common in nature, but to added effect of what happens next). Often during copulation, male sea otters will submerge the females head underwater, to the point of near suffocation. Field research yielded an estimate of 11% of southern sea otter deaths are attributed to this masochistic style of mating. Surviving females can be identified as having recently mated by the superficial scarring left behind by the males.
Now, that’s just the basics of intraspecific sea otter reproduction, at least the social mechanisms anyway. Here’s where we get to the interspecific portion of this blurb. Sea otters have been known to forcefully mate with pup sea lions. Oh ya, interspecies action. The article I linked at the bottom gives a pretty good play by play and elaboration of it, but I’ll cite a few cliff notes.
1. Sea otter aggressively attempts copulation with sea lion pup and succeeds
2. *spoiler* Sea lion pup dies
3. Sea otter finishes his ‘interspecific interaction,’ then goes back to grooming
4. This has been documented on other occasions as well, with some sea otters copulating with the dead corpse of a sea lion long after the victim has died.
5. Damn nature, you scary!
For the record, I don’t think this is cool. Ok, yeah, I think this is totally cool. Hell, I think animals are freaking maniacs. I, just like any other scientist, enjoy learning new things. Even if they are a little off putting.
Links (This is the most forthcoming article I could find. There are others, but they escape me at the moment. Just like sleep)