Lontra felina


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Lontra felina
Species Authority: (Molina, 1782)
Common Name/s:
English Marine Otter, Sea Cat
Spanish Chinchimen, Chichimen, Chingungo, Gato De Mar, Gato Marino, Huallaca, Nutria De Mar
French Chungungo, Loutre De Mer
Lutra felina Molina, 1782
Taxonomic Notes: Placed in genus Lontra by van Zyll de Jong (1972, 1987) and Larivière (1998). Reviewed by Larivière (1998). Van Zyll de Jong (1972, 1987, 1991), Koepfli and Wayne (1998), and Bininda-Emonds et al. (1999) supported the separation of New World otters into genus Lontra, except Pteronura.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Endangered A3cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor/s: Alvarez, R. & Medina-Vogel, G.
Reviewer/s: Hussain, S.A. & Conroy, J. (Otter Red List Authority)
This species is listed as Endangered due to an inferred future population decline due to habitat loss and exploitation. The marine otter has a restricted distribution along the Pacific coast from northern Peru along the Chilean coast to Cape Horn and Isla de Los Estados in Argentina. It is patchily distributed from Peru to Tierra del Fuego. Its distribution north of 39°S latitude is becoming highly fragmented because of exploitation, pollution and increased human occupation along the seashores. Poaching is still present in many regions, especially south of 39ºS latitude, where there is little or no enforcement of protective legislation. The greatest threats to its continuous existence are accelerating habitat destruction, degradation, and competition for prey, accidental kill in crab pots and poaching throughout the range. Its original range has decreased considerably because of excessive hunting (Redford and Eisenberg 1992), and the species has been nearly exterminated from the regions of Cape Horn and southern Tierra del Fuego (Brownell 1978) as well as from the northern extremities of its former range (Chehebar 1990). Based on current rates of decline and trends, these threats are estimated to result in future population reductions of at least 50% over the next 3 generations (30 years) unless conservation measures are strengthened.
2004 Endangered
2000 Endangered
1996 Endangered
1996 Endangered
1994 Vulnerable (Groombridge 1994)
1990 Vulnerable (IUCN 1990)
1988 Vulnerable (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
1986 Vulnerable (IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
1982 Vulnerable (Thornback and Jenkins 1982)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The marine otter Lontra felina lives along the Pacific coast of South America from 6°S to 56°S along the Chilean coast to Cape Horn, Straits of Lemaire and Isla de Los Estados in Argentina (Brack Egg 1978, Brownell 1978, van Zyll de Jong 1972). It is also present in isolated populations in the Strait of Magellan and on Staten Island in Argentina (Cabrera 1957, Parera 1996).
Argentina; Chile; Peru
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: The population of Lontra felina probably consisted of <1,000 individuals (Nowak 1991). Its largest population remains in the west coast of Chiloe Island and in southern parts of Chile (Cabello 1978). During 1999-2000, in southern Chile, an average of 3.8 observable otters/km were recorded, with significant differences between sites but no systematic trends with regard to seasons. Observable pups were recorded year-round (Medina-Vogel et al. 2006). Along the Peruvian coast the population is estimated to be 200-300 marine otters (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Lontra felina is the only species of the genus Lontra that is found exclusively in marine habitats. It uses coastlines with range extending approximately 30 m inland and 100-150 m of sea offshore (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979). The species inhabits marine areas exposed to heavy seas and strong wind (Cabello 1978; Ostfeld et al. 1989) and prefers rocky shores with caves that are above water at high tide, as well as areas with large algae communities offering a wide abundance and diversity of prey species (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979). Sandy beaches offer marginal habitat (Sielfeld 1989) and typically are used only for travel between dens and water (Ebensperger and Castilla 1992). Marine otters are, for the most part, restricted to marine waters, but may occasionally travel up freshwater rivers in search of prey (Brownell 1978; Cabello 1978; Redford and Eisenberg, 1992). Because not all coastlines are suitable, marine otters are found in disjunct populations throughout their distribution range (Redford and Eisenberg 1992).

The marine otter diet is composed mostly of invertebrates, including crustaceans (decapods, shrimps, and crabs) and mollusks (bivalves and gastropods), and vertebrate prey, including fish from the families Blennidae, Cheilodactylidae, Gobiesocidae, and Pomacentridae, and occasionally birds and small mammals (Cabello 1978; Castilla and Bahamondes 1979; Ostfeld et al. 1989; Sielfeld 1990a). Along the Valdivian coast in the south of Chile the diet of marine otter consisted of 25 species; 52% (13/25) of the species identified were crustaceans, 40% (10/25) were fish, and 8% (2/25) were mollusks. Crustaceans were found in 78% of 475 spraints, 100% of 929 prey remains, and 90.8% of prey determined by direct observation, fish in 20% of spraints and 9.0% of prey determined by direct observation, and mollusks in 2% of spraints and 0.2% of prey determined by direct observation. Observed seasonal variation in prey availability was reflected in the otter diet. Fourteen prey species were trapped; 43% (6/14) were crustaceans and 57% (8/14) fish, crustaceans were 93% of 566 trapped individuals, fish 7%. L. felina showed opportunistic feeding behavior, selecting prey seasonally according to their availability rather than to their energy input (Medina et al. 2004).

Some analyses have found that fruits (Greigia sphacelata, Fascicularia bicolor) may also be consumed on occasion (Brownell 1978; Cabello 1978; Medina 1995). Marine otters may compete with gulls (Larus) and the South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) for similar species of prey fish (Cabello 1978). The most important natural predator of the marine otter is the killer whale (Orcinus orca; Cabello 1978), but adults also may be killed by sharks (Parera 1996) and birds of prey may capture juveniles when on land (Cabello 1983).

The marine otter is most likely a monogamous species. Mating typically occurs during December or January (Caballo 1978) with gestation of 60-65 days (Housse 1953; Sielfield 1983). Parturition usually occurs from January to March. It takes place in a den or on shore between rocky outcroppings and vegetation. The litter size varies from two to four young, with two being observed most frequently. Young marine otters remain with their parents for approximately ten months. Adults transport their young by carrying them in their mouths or resting the young on their bellies as they swim on their backs. Both adults in the monogamous pair bring prey back to the den to feed their young (Parera 1996). When not breeding, marine otters are mostly solitary. The group size is seldom more than two to three individuals. Its activity pattern is generally diurnal, with peaks of activity noted in early morning, mid-afternoon, and evenings. Marine otters are much more agile in the water than on land.
Systems: Terrestrial; Freshwater; Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Habitat destruction, pollution, and poaching/excessive hunting are the major threats to marine otters in South America (Castilla and Bahamondes 1979; Chehebar 1990; Estes 1986; Iriarte and Jaksic 1986). The original range of Lontra felina has decreased considerably because of excessive hunting (Redford and Eisenberg 1992) and the species has been nearly exterminated from the regions of Cape Horn and southern Tierra del Fuego (Brownell 1978) as well as from the northern extremities of its former range (Chehebar 1990). Illegal trade in pelts was still relatively frequent in southern Chile in the 1990s (Macdonald and Mason 1990), as the price paid for a single pelt was equivalent to the wages an unskilled worker could earn in 2-3 months, and the probability of being caught and fined for poaching was very low (Miller et al. 1983). The largest populations of marine otters remain along the west coast of Chiloé Island and in southern parts of Chile, where there is not only very little information about hunting, habitat conservation, and the status and distribution of otter populations, but little enforcement of otter protection measures. In Argentina, L. felina is on the verge of extinction and may persist only on the eastern coast of Tierra del Fuego and on Staten Island (Chehebar 1990; Parera 1996).

In addition to hunting, marine otters may be killed incidentally by fishing activities (Brownell 1978), or persecuted and killed directly for alleged damage to local fish, bivalves, and shrimp populations (Miller et al. 1983; Redford and Eisenberg 1992). Fishery overexploitation of crabs and mollusks in some regions of the coast may be a major threat to otters due to the reduction of available food sources.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: It is listed in Appendix I of the CITES (Nowak 1991). The marine otter is protected in Argentina, Chile, and Peru.
Citation: Alvarez, R. & Medina-Vogel, G. 2008. Lontra felina. In: IUCN 2013. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. <>. Downloaded on 20 April 2014.
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