Otterly Adorable

Otterly Adorable

One of my favorite creatures found in the oceans and rivers of this world are otters. I know I’m certainly not the only one, as the otter’s colorful antics have made them favorites of millions of people across the world.  Having just discussed sea urchins in the previous article, I thought now would be a fitting time to cover one of their primary predators, the otters. More on that in a moment. This article will give the reader some background information about otters, as well as discuss their place in the origins debate.

Otters are beloved because they embody a playful, cheerful, almost childlike spirit that is endearing even to the most depressed scrooge. It certainly doesn’t hurt that they are cute.  My favorite experience with otters was at a zoo I visited with some family friends. The two otters in the above picture were dedicated to entertaining the zoo guests. They chased one another, slid down mudslides, and made a point of visiting their enclosures glass to entertain the guests. They were dedicated to entertainment and seemed to enjoy the attention, so much so that when they thought no one was looking at their exhibit, they would lay down and rest. The moment a guest appeared, however, the entertainment would resume. This went on for over half an hour as we and other guests looked on with delight before my party moved on.

The entertainment aside, otters are very interesting creatures. They are all at least partially aquatic and are the only members of their scientific family to love the water. Their closest relatives are members of the weasel family, such as badgers and wolverines. It’s hard to believe that the adorable otters we see above are related to the fierce wolverine or the stubborn badger but they are, at least under the current classification. There is some dispute as to whether otters deserve their own separate kind. For the moment I have chosen to keep them with the badgers, but I might revisit this later.  There are thirteen species of otter living, and they range in size from two to just under six feet in length and can weigh as much as just shy of one hundred pounds.  They are long and slender with short legs built for swimming more than running.

Otters are designed for the water and this starts with their fur. They have very soft, fuzzy inner fur called underfur. Above this is the much more bristly waterproof guard hairs.  This fur insulates the otter against cold water, but also provides additional buoyancy. It does this by trapping air between the underfur and guard hairs. This helps the otter ascend to the surface more easily. Their streamlined figure makes diving easier, and their long tail acts as a propeller, helping push them through the water.  Their rear feet act as the rudder, helping them turn.  Their feet are also partially or completely webbed, depending on the species. This allows them to swim much more easily.  Their whiskers function as current detectors, allowing an otter to account for the movement of the water as they hunt.

Otters are great divers. They have to be to find their food. They can be underwater for as much as eight minutes, depending on the species.  They do this by depressing their heart rate when they dive. This slows down the otter’s metabolism, reducing the need for oxygen. Essentially, this makes one breath last much longer than it normally would.

Otters are highly social animals. They love to do things together. You might say they are extroverts, and, as my story above illustrated, they can be the life of the party.  They are incredibly curious and will investigate anything that takes their fancy. They are also surprisingly intelligent. Young otters actively learn from older otter how to clean their coat to ensure it stays waterproof, and how to hunt. However, not everything is about business. Otters are one of a number of mammals which actively play simply for the fun of it.  They are fond of many human childhood games like tag and wrestling matches.

When otters aren’t chasing each other, or entertaining humans, they are deadly predators. Their diets are almost exclusively aquatic, consisting of crustaceans, fish, frogs, salamanders, and mollusks. Sea otters famously use rocks to crack open the shells of mollusks and sea urchins.  No other otter does so.  Otters have a fast metabolism so most species need to eat at least a third of their own weight every day just to stay alive.

Otters reproduce using sexual reproduction. Female otters will generally carry their infants in vitro for anywhere from two to three months.  The mother will raise the pups alone, though in a couple species dad will help.  Otter pups are usually born in an otter den, blind and totally unable to care for themselves. Sea otter pups are born with open eyes and hair, but can only float. It will be two months before the newborn pup is able to swim.  Their mother will care for them for over a year before she kicks the pups out and they have to go it alone. However, they will stay close by their mother for a time until they sexually mature. For males, this will be when they hit three years of age. Females mature a year sooner, but even then, until they have their own pups, they will stay in the same social group as their mom. Males will live alone, or with a couple other males.

Otters are of interest to origins for a number of reasons. Sea otters provide several examples on their own. How would evolution explain that sea otter pups are the only ones born with open eyes and a fur coat that lets them float? Its almost as if an all-wise designer knew they would need to be able to float on their own or sea otters would die out once they appeared. Further, how did the first sea otter learn to use stones to crack the shell of a clam or sea urchin? This is a learned behavior, so it is not instinctual.  How did the first sea otter learn this?

Otters swimming ability produces some other questions which demand answers. How, for example, did otters develop the ability to depress their heart rate to dive? They have to hold their breath to dive to reach their food, but they cannot do this unless they can slow down their heart.  This is an all or nothing scenario. Either the first otters had this feature, or they would have died out almost immediately from starvation. Yet none of their close relatives are even water dwellers, let alone have this feature. So where did it come from? How did it develop exactly as it was needed?

Another question which demands an answer is why do otters look so designed for the water? From their webbed feet to their streamlined body, to their whiskers, to their waterproof fur, their entire body looks and functions like it was designed for the water. All these features are either essential or important to a water-dwelling creature. How did they all accidentally develop on the same creature, which just happens to live in the water?

One final question is why do otters like to have fun? It may seem a strange question but consider this. Fun is of no evolutionary benefit. It does not find food, nor does it help the animal survive to produce offspring. Evolutionarily speaking, fun wastes energy that could be used to help the animal survive. It should have been selected against and bred out of the genome, yet it was not. Why? How do evolutionists explain otters love of a good frolick?

Creationists can answer these questions with ease. Sea otter babies are born with hair and open eyes because God knew they would be born in the water and need to be able to float to survive.  Because He made otters for the water, He equipped them with what they would need to be successful in it, such as webbed feet and a streamlined figure.  He also designed their body to automatically slow down their hearts when they held their breath, permitting them to dive.  Since God ultimately made all animals, including otters, for man’s use and pleasure, it makes sense He would make some creatures very entertaining. Otters were one of them.  The Creator wanted man to enjoy his new home. Creating entertaining creatures like otters was just one small part of fulfilling that desire.

 

 

(The picture you see above was taken at the Grand Rapids Zoo. The otter on the left with the appearance of a mustache is the female Chumani, and the one relaxing in the water is the male Slyde. If you live in the area, drop in and see them. I doubt you’ll walk away bored.)

 

2 thoughts on “Otterly Adorable

  1. It’s a bit confusing to say that otters are relatives of badgers but then God made otters the way they are implying that the specific characteristics of otters could not have happened by any natural mechanism. I’m guessing you think otters are in the same “kind” as badgers and so otters as they exist today were not on the ark. But putting that aside I want to note a common theological error. Near the end you state: “Since God ultimately made all animals, including otters, for man’s use and pleasure, it makes sense He would make some creatures very entertaining.”

    I think this is a common theological error that permeates and influences many Christians attitudes about the environment. The Bible teaches that all animal life belongs to God, not to humans: “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.” “I know every bird in the mountains and the creatures of the field are mine” and so on. (Ps. 50:10-22; cf. Ps. 24:1; Col. 1:16). Yes, humans are very much at the center of God’s creation. All of redemptive history is about humans but that doesn’t mean that creation was ultimately made for humans. The creation reflects and glorifies God above all.

    This should be obvious once one realizes that there have been many species that have lived and gone extinct–even in the YEC timeline–without a single interaction with man. Like, 10,000+ species of trilobites. God made them for his own good pleasure and for His glory for man to use. Otters can enjoy the creation without have the purpose of being entertaining to us. God provides for us through His creation but it doesn’t give us ownership of His creation. The creation is still His.

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    1. This is one of the rare occasions where I 100% agree with you. 🙂 The animals certainly were made by God and belong to Him. However, God granted man dominion over them while he is on this earth. Man is, as it were, steward of the earth. The animals in a sense are his to use, but he must account to God for what he does with them. I have edited my article for some clarity regarding where I believe the kind falls. Thank you for bringing that to my attention.

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