Behavioral Thermoregulatory
Sea Otter with feet out of water
picture courtesy of Jimmy's Sea Otter Page
     Sea otters also have several behavioral thermoregulatory adaptations.  One adaptation involves using their feet to minimize or maximize heat loss when water temperatures are too cold or too warm, respectively.  When water temperatures are cooler, sea otters have been shown to reduce heat loss due to convection by floating on their backs with their feet out of the water.  As discussed in the section on countercurrent heat exchangers, lack of fur, large surface to volume ratios and thin skin makes feet more susceptible to heat loss.  When the animals are trying to loose heat, they spread their feet out underwater to maximize surface to volume ratios and heat loss.  To dissipate or conserve smaller amounts of body heat, sea otters spread out or fold up their feet.
(Tarasoff, 1974)
Picture courtesy of Jimmy's Sea Otter page
  Sea otters have also been shown to increase and decrease their buoyancy in response to change in water temperature.  Sea otters have a lung capacity 2.5 times that of other mammals the same size.  They manipulate their lung volume to increase buoyancy in cold water temperatures, thus minimizing exposure to the water, and decrease lung volume to decrease buoyancy in warmer waters. (Costa and Kooyman, 1982)

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oil spills and sea otters