Two local iconic animals are favorites

By Rachel Davis

Wrhenever my parents drive us near the Puget Sound I push my face up to the window and look for orca fins.

I’ve only ever seen a full orca on a TV screen, but spotting the top of an orca’s fin is fairly common.

I used to stare at the water for hours trying to picture an orca jumping cleanly out, but alas, that day has yet to come. I love a lot of different sea creatures, but some I especially love are sea otters and orcas.

Most people who live in Washington can identify these two easily; some may have even seen them in the wild before.

In this edition of Rachel freaks out over the sea, I’ll be dishing out some fun facts about my favorite commonly known sea creatures.

Let’s start with some sea otter facts. The Enhydra Lutris, or what we call the sea otter, is native to the north and east Pacific Ocean. While similar to the Lontra Canadensis, or river otter, there are some key differences.

For starters, the sea otter primarily lives in the water. They sleep floating on the surface wrapped in kelp, relying on their thick fur coat of one million hairs per square inch instead of blubber fat to stay warm.

For comparison, a snow leopard has 26,000 hairs per square inch. They are also fantastic swimmers. Mothers will typically wrap their babies in kelp to keep them attached as they dip under the waves for a meal, which consist of sea urchins, crabs, clams, snails and other invertebrates.

The sea otter is a very fascinating creature, but I think a big part of my fondness for them comes from their adorableness.

Now, it may sound like I only like cute animals with big eyes and fuzzy fur, but other creatures catch my interest as well.

For example, the killer whale, commonly known as the orca, is one of the most famous sea mammals in the Pacific Northwest.

Orcas are associated with Indigenous communities around Washington, symbolizing good luck and compassion and being rumored to guide people back to their homeland after a tiring journey.

The male orca grows to about 32 feet in length while the females go up to about 28 feet, and both weigh up to 400 pounds.

Along with their physical traits, the way orcas communicate with each other is also very interesting. Typically, adult orcas will whistle or make their fins pulsate to send noise through the water.

Sometimes, they also do what is considered a “pec slap” where they slap their fins against the water to send signals to their calves or other adult orcas. While I love other sea creatures as well, the orca and the sea otter have become my favorites.

The creatures that live in the sea are some of the most genetically interesting living things to me. The way a fish works is completely different from a mammal, and it’s fascinating to learn more about the differences and similarities between them.