Sea otter swims leisurely amidst ocean pancake ice

Feb. 24, 2021

On February 4 at Cape Kiritappu in the town of Hamanaka in eastern Hokkaido, a sea otter was seen swimming amidst pancake ice patches where the seawater surface had frozen. To avoid predators like the Steller’s sea eagle, in the winter season sea otters spend much of their time in the offing during storm-free weather, and are supposedly not often seen in the cape area. But they can be seen from the promenade if your luck is right.

In Hamanaka Town on the morning of February 4, an observation point near the cape recorded the lowest temperature for this season, 20.9 degrees Celsius below zero. Pancake ice patches, also called lotus leaf ice patches in Japan, occur when seawater surface ice patches bump up against each other, forcing the edges up and rounding the patches into a lotus leaf shape. On February 4, the ice patches extended across a belt area several dozen meters in width along the north side of the cape.

The sea otter spotted was a lone swimmer. Checking in on the sea otter slightly after the noon hour, from a promenade atop an approximately 40 meter tall cliff it could be seen napping atop a small rock frozen white some hundred meters or more outward. Perhaps sensing the presence of people, it got up, moved slowly, and slipped into the icy waters. As if sewing together the pancake ice patches, it kicked at the icy ocean water with its feet and started swimming.


Cape Kiritappu