Habitat associations of sea otters(Enhydra lutris)in a soft- and mixed-sediment benthos in Alaska

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Abstract

We investigated the habitat associations of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) during resting and feeding in an area with a predominately soft- and mixed-sediment benthos supporting infaunal prey populations in a fjord in Alaska during the summer months of 2001-2003. Water depth and benthic sediments were sampled, analyzed, and mapped throughout the bay. Sea otter locations and behavior were determined during boat surveys, and water depth, benthic sediment type, and position in the bay (peripheral compared to central) were determined for each animal location. We used logistic regression analysis to determine whether the use of habitat by sea otters was nonrandom according to these variables. Water depth was the most significant habitat association for feeding behavior, with 39% of feeding dives occurring in water 0-10 m deep. Feeding behavior was not strongly associated with sediment type. Position in the bay was the most significant habitat association for resting behavior, with the majority (63%) of otters resting in the central areas of the bay. Overall, habitat associations were nonrandom, a possible reflection of selective pressure to maximize energy intake, minimize energy expenditure, and avoid terrestrial predators.

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