UPDATE (January 23, 2018):

Yet another sea otter in Alaska's Kachemak Bay has been spotted gobbling down a giant Pacific octopus. Local resident Valisa Higman witnessed the tentacle feast near her art studio in the city of Seldovia, where a female otter known locally as "Twiddle" recently surfaced with a sizeable cephalopod in her grip. Whether or not Twiddle killed the octopus or simply happened upon its remains is anyone's guess, but footage like this is rare either way. Learn more about this seldom seen behaviour in the original article below. 




The giant Pacific octopus can reach 15 feet across and weigh nearly 50 pounds. The animals' 2,000 suckers and meaty arms are so strong that they can leave hickeys on skin, and even grown men struggle to budge them. And yet one of Alaska's cutest inhabitants seems to have no problem taking down these mighty cephalopods. 

My octopus! Image: Emma Luck, Rainbow Tours/Facebook

This rarely seen predatory coup was photographed by Juneau resident Emma Luck, who works as a deckhand and naturalist with Rainbow Tours charters. Luck and her colleagues were out on Kachemak Bay when the sea otter surfaced with its impressive meal. 

The encounter was made all the more exciting when the otter's pup popped up beside her, ready to share in the tentacled spoils. 

"It hung around the boat for maybe five or so minutes," recalls Luck. "It was constantly swimming and changing directions since the water was a little choppy, and there were a few gulls following it around trying to grab at the octopus. They seem to get pretty possessive of octopus."

Compared to clams and other shellfish, octopus meat is rich in protein. For all its nutrient value, though, it's a dangerous food choice. Over in Australia, dolphins have died attempting a hunt of this kind – and with much smaller octopus species. The same can be said for both seals and sea lions.

It's unclear whether this particular otter chased down its "eight-legged" lunch or simply scavenged the carcass, but this wouldn't be the first time an otter-on-octopus hunt has been seen in the area. 

Image: Emma Luck, Rainbow Tours/Facebook
Image: Emma Luck, Rainbow Tours/Facebook

Interestingly, many of the otters seen snackin' on the Kraken are adult females with pups in tow. Otter pups nurse for about six months, but they'll stay with mom as they learn to dive and forage on their own. It could be that the extra caloric needs of a mother-pup pair make formidable prey like these octopuses worth the risk.

Even when they aren't eating for two, sea otters need to consume about 25 percent of their body weight in food each day. In fact, they burn calories nearly three times faster than other marine mammals. Lacking blubbery insulation, the otters rely on this high metabolic rate to keep warm in the open ocean.

They also expend a huge amount of energy grooming themselves. By blowing bubbles into their dense underfur, sea otters ensure that water does not reach their skin (this works much like a diver's dry suit). But that air-trapping property holds out only when fur is kept clean and debris-free. 

To refuel, an adult otter can eat about two tons of food per year. (It costs zoos about $20,000 a year to house a single sea otter, a grocery bill that makes them one of the most expensive animals – relative to size – to keep in captivity!) 

Due to that ravenous appetite, many communities view these animals as "sea rats" that decimate local ecosystems. The bad reputation, however, is mostly undeserved.

As a species, sea otters eat over 50 different prey types, but an individual will typically opt for just two to three. Dietary preference is passed on from mother to pup, and that partitioning of resources helps to control competition between otters living in close proximity to one another.

While fish make up some 50 percent of the diets of Alaskan otters, it's possible that some members of the Kachemak Bay population have become cephalopod specialists over the years.  Sea otters in California's Monterey Bay have also been known to eat the occasional giant Pacific octopus, but the behaviour seems to be most prevalent in these northern waters.

"We usually see otters with octopus once or twice a summer," says Luck. "It doesn't happen very often, but when it does it's always very cool to watch. The octopus are huge ... often larger than the otters themselves. I would love to see how they manage to catch them!" 

Don't let that button nose fool you: these "cuddly" mammals pack hefty teeth. (And as we've discussed before, touching a wild sea otter can land you in a world of trouble.) Image: Emma Luck, Rainbow Tours/Facebook
Image: Emma Luck, Rainbow Tours/Facebook


Top header image: Paul Williams/Flickr