2015 Volume 77 Issue 5 Pages 571-578
Although the sea otter (Enhydra lutris) is a complete aquatic species, spending its entire life in the ocean, it has been considered morphologically to be a semi-aquatic animal. This study aimed to clarify the unique hindlimb morphology and functional adaptations of E. lutris in comparison to other Mustelidae species. We compared muscle mass and bone measurements of five Mustelidae species: the sea otter, Eurasian river otter (Lutra lutra), American mink (Neovison vison), Japanese weasel (Mustela itatsi) and Siberian weasel (M. sibirica). In comparison with the other 4 species, E. lutris possessed significantly larger gluteus, popliteus and peroneus muscles, but smaller adductor and ischiopubic muscles. The popliteus muscle may act as a medial rotator of the crus, and the peroneus muscle may act as an abductor of the fifth toe and/or the pronator of the foot. The bundles of the gluteus superficialis muscle of E. lutris were fused with those of the tensor fasciae latae muscle and gluteofemoralis muscles, and they may play a role in femur abduction. These results suggest that E. lutris uses the abducted femur, medially rotated crus, eversion of the ankle and abducted fifth digit or extended interdigital web as a powerful propulsion generator. Therefore, we conclude that E. lutris is a complete aquatic animal, possessing differences in the proportions of the hindlimb muscles compared with those in other semi-aquatic and terrestrial mustelids.