Perception – Brynn Hawker


What do Sea Otters feel? We know Sea Otters spend a large portion of their lives in the ocean and, when resting, in large rafts. The otters hold hands in single-sex these groups and float on their backs together while they rest.

We wanted to explore how Sea Otters interact through a explorative performance finally forming our very own otter raft.


While the sea otter’s sight is effective both above and below water sea otters also make use of highly sensitive whiskers and forepaws forage for food in dim or murky waters. In a similar way to how bats can use echolocation to see this allows sea otters to see without using their eyes.

How do we, as humans, fair when put to the same test? In class we performed an experiment trying to sort between pieces of metal in a bucket full of opaque water and recorded the times.

Student Time
Greg 12.53s
Chris 12.51s
Kiki 4.86s
Brynn 1m 56.45s


What would a choir of sea otters sound like? While pondering this question I found myself recalling one of my favourite episodes of Bravest Warriors where the hero’s help a group of aliens — the Sugarbellies — sing and realign their planets (the entire episode is excellent if you have time to watch it).

Upon further research it would seem the majority of Sea Otters’ vocal repertoire is restricted to grumbles and barks however they can also produce higher more consistent — and perhaps even musical — tones. Considering how smart these creatures are it is very possible we will see the first Ottera in our lifetime.


Researchers have observed that sea otters seem to rely more on smell to identify threats than perhaps sight. They found that being downwind from an otter caused them to be almost completely ignored. From Karl W. Kenyon’s, “The Sea Otter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean”:

I approached a dispersed group of 25 otters sleeping on the rocks. The S. W. breeze of ca. 4-6 knots was such that I could approach cross wind. I moved quietly to within about 10 feet of a group of six sleeping animals and made a noise to awaken them. The animals looked at me but were not alarmed. After taking photos I made some quick movements and they became mildly alarmed and went slowly to the water which was in a channel about 15 feet wide among the rocks. Here they preened-not alarmed. Then they swam slowly to a point directly down wind of me. As they got my scent, all dived in great alarm and swam frantically away under water.
One old male awoke of his own accord and walked leisurely over the rocks on my upwind side. He was only 3 feet away. He looked at me with no recognition-I moved slowly and took a picture, the click startled him but he was not alarmed and ambled around behind me, to a point downwind of me. When he caught my scent he took extreme alarm and scrambled frantically over the rocks, dived into the water, and did not come up until 100 feet away.


What does this world look like to a sea otter? Or rather, what does is smell like? In an attempt to represent an otter’s perception of people around them I created a panorama, the photo altered to to show the direction of the wind.

View the Panorama


Access to freshwater is a luxury most of us are accustomed to having but one third of the global population lives with restricted access to freshwater for at least one month of the year (source). One proposed solution is desalination, which converts saltwater to freshwater suitable for human consumption. Approximately 1% for the world’s population relies on desalination for their drinking water but that need is expected to rise over the next decade (source).

The current problems facing desalination include it’s cost and energy consumption which limit its effectiveness worldwide. Sea Otters, who spend the majority of their lives in saltwater, have adapted such that their kidneys can process sea water. Perhaps we could learn from the sea otters bioengineering ourselves to live in a world without easy access to freshwater.


 An Opera performed by Otters