Would you hold me forever?

Otters Holding Hands
Photo: Mindluge @ Flickr


In 2007, visitors to the Vancouver Aquarium uploaded to YouTube a video of two otters holding hands while sleeping in their tank (see below)[10]. This video skyrocketed and till date, it has 18million viewers. In 2010, Time magazine nominated the video to be one of Youtube’s 50 best videos[4].

Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris)

The lead actor, the sea otter, Enhydra lutris, is a marine mammal that is native to the coasts of northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean[5]. Sea otters tend to rest together in single-sex groups called rafts. It has been noted that sea otters hold hands while sleeping to prevent themselves from drifting out to sea.  This behaviour may be attributed to defending themselves.

However, little research has been done on this particular behaviour. One may suggest that the otters hold hands for security (both physically and emotionally), with the old taking care of the young, while others may argue that they hold hands for bonding. However, regardless of the reason behind this behaviour, it is a characteristic unique to these otters.

Despite the lack of literature support, there is a number of blogs that have mentioned about this behaviour[7]. The particular Youtube video went viral again when one of the otters, Milo, died last year after undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma. Many bloggers even dedicated posts to Milo[8].

Smooth otters at Sungei Serangoon
Photo: Group14


Although sea otters cannot be found in Singapore, we have another species of otter called the smooth otter, Lutrogale perspicillata, which can be found in various locations around Singapore[6]. On my recent trip to Sungei Serangoon, I spotted them feeding and swimming around. For those who are interested in this unique animal, you don’t have to visit the aquariums but instead find them in their own natural habitat.

Video of Sea Otters holding hands while sleeping. If video does not show, refresh or click here.


Literature Cited

1) I. Barabash-Nikiforov, 1935. The Sea Otters Of The Commander Islands. Journal Of Mammalogy, 16[4]: 255-261

2) Bayha, Keith, and Jennifer Kormendy, Technical Coordinators. 1990. Sea Otter Symposium:
Proceedings of a symposium to evaluate the response effort on behalf of sea otters after the T/V Exxon Valdez oil spill into Prince William Sound, Anchorage, Alaska, 17-19 April 1990. U.S. Fish Wildl.Serv., Biol. Rep. 90[12]. 288

3) Joe Allegra; Rhiannon Rath; Aren Gunderson. ND. Enhydra lutris. Sea otters. Animal Diversity Web.
URL: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Enhydra_lutris/
Accessed on: 4th April 2013

4) Kristi Oloffson. 29th March 2010. The Youtube 50: Otters holding Hands. TimeLists.
URL: http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1974961_1974925_1974742,00.html
Accessed on: 4th April 2013

5) OceanLink. ND. Sea Otters. Enhydra lutris. OceanLink.
URL: http://oceanlink.island.net/biodiversity/otter/otter.html
Accessed on: 4th April 2013

6) Oct 2009. Smooth otter, Lugtrogale perspicillata. Wild Fact Sheets.
URL: http://www.wildsingapore.com/wildfacts/vertebrates/mammals/perspicillata.htm
Accessed on: 4th April 2013


7) Otters holding paws, by Brian Switek, 31st March 2007. Online Blog.
URL: http://laelaps.wordpress.com/2007/03/31/otters-holding-paws/
Accessed on: 4th April 2013

8a) YouTube celebrity sea otter dies from cancer. CBC News, 12 January 2012.  CBC news.
URL: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2012/01/12/bc-sea-otter-vancouver-aquarium.html
Accessed on: 5th April 2013

8b) Beloved Sea Otter Milo. Vancouver Aquarium,12 January 2012.  Online Blog.
URL: http://www.aquablog.ca/2012/01/beloved-sea-otter-milo/
Accessed on: 5th April 2013

8c) Milo, the Last Surviving Hand-Holding Sea Otter, Has Died. GeekoSystem, 14 January 2012. Online Blog.
URL: http://www.geekosystem.com/hand-holding-otter-died/
Accessed on: 5th April 2013


9) Photo:
Holding hands, by Mindluge, 27th November 2006. Flickr.
URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mindfire/316194679/
Accessed on: 3rd April 2013

10) Video:
Otters Holding Hands, by cynthiaholmes, Mar 19, 2007. YouTube.
URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epUk3T2Kfno
Accessed on: 3rd April 2013