Functional morphology of sea otter feeding


As one of the smallest marine mammals, sea otters exhibit the highest known mass-specific metabolic
rates of marine mammals and consequently must consume 20–25% of their body mass in
food per day. Sea otters are durophagous, spending 20–50% of the day foraging on a variety of hard-shelled invertebrates such as chitinous crabs and calcifying bivalves and gastropods. Thus, the morphological, behavioral, and functional traits associated with successful feeding may be under strong selective pressures in sea otters.

My research investigates the morphological and functional adaptations of the feeding apparatus that allow southern sea otters to process their hard-shelled prey and thus survive in the harsh environment characterized by carrying capacity, low prey resources, and intense resource competition. Thus far, I have quantified craniomandibular size and shape differences between adult male and female otters as well as simulataneously examined scaling patterns and intersexual differences of sea otter bite force.

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Read More:

Law CJ, Baliga VB, Tinker MT, & Mehta RS. 2017. Asynchrony in craniomandibular development and growth in Enhydra lutris nereis (Carnivora: Mustelidae): Are southern sea otters born to bite? Biological Journal of Linnean Society. 121:420-438 doi.org/10.1093/biolinnean/blw050

Law CJ, Young C, and Mehta RS. 2016. Ontogenetic scaling of theoretical bite forces in southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis). Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 89:347-363. doi.org/10.1086/688313

Law CJ, Venkatram V, & Mehta RS. 2016. Sexual dimorphism of craniomandibular morphology in southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis). Journal of Mammalogy. 97:1764-1773. doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyw148

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