Sea Otters Are Mean When It Comes to Mating

sea otters fighting. Donald Quintana/ MNN Flickr Group

Most of the time, sea otters are one of the cutest animals on the planet. They float around grooming themselves, cracking crabs on their chests and nibbling on urchins. But that illusion of a sweet, fuzzy little ball of joy is shattered when it comes to the realities of reproduction.

Sea otter males can be just plain mean.

When it comes to mating, male sea otters are aggressive. The males will grasp the female, then bite down onto her nose and hold on, usually resulting in deep cuts and gouges, sometimes with pieces of flesh torn away. The two spin in the water until mating is finished and the male releases the female. This can sometimes result in the death of the female, either from physical trauma or even drowning.

Not only are they mean to female sea otters and pups, but they're also flat out lethal to other species. As Discovery reported in 2011, between 2000 and 2002, Heather Harris of the California Department of Fish and Game and colleagues documented 19 cases of male sea otters forcibly copulating with juvenile harbor seals, something that lead to the death of 15 of the 19 seals. And here's the part that will change the way you look at sea otters forever: "On some occasions, they further note, otters would guard and copulate with the seals long after their victims had died -– as much as seven days afterward, in fact."

Why are sea otters acting this way? Discovery explains, "For reasons that are still far from clear, overall mortality rate in the otter population is increasing, and disproportionately affecting females. As a consequence, an even greater number of mature males are denied mating opportunities, possibly causing sexual encounters to be more aggressive when they do occur. And those males that remain denied an opportunity to mate take out their frustrations on the hapless young harbor seals, an interspecies interaction that has been known to take place, albeit with less dramatic consequences, in other marine mammals."

Sea otters look cute, but there is way more happening among sea otters than you'd probably ever suspect.