"I’m going to ruin sea otters for you."
November 6, 2013 5:41 AM   Subscribe

Say It With Sea Otters is a blog where adorable cartoon animals deliver difficult messages. Here are some examples: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. While the sea otter has a well deserved reputation for extreme cuteness, these aquatic weasels engage in behavior that to humans seems truly reprehensible. Of course, we humans haven't exactly treated them well throughout history. Indeed, the first scientist to describe them, George Wilhelm Steller, emphasized their valuable fur in his description of them.
posted by Kattullus (63 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Reprehensible behavior to those who anthropomorphize animals, yes.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:47 AM on November 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


It's hard for humans to turn off the part of them that empathizes with suffering, whether it's the suffering of a human or an animal.
posted by Kattullus at 5:51 AM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


Reprehensible behavior to those who anthropomorphize animals, yes.

Bingo. I am reminded of Richard Dawkin's comment:

"…nature is not cruel, only piteously indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callously indifferent to all suffering...

but Nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering nor for it. Nature is not interested one way or the other in suffering, unless it affects survival of DNA."
posted by three blind mice at 5:53 AM on November 6, 2013


I keep saying it, otters are jerks, but all of MetaFilter shouts me down. Now who's laughing, jerky-otter defenders? Huh?

Note: while I believe that otters are jerks, I do not condone otter jerky. Just for the record.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:57 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Animals aren't indifferent, unthinking rocks tumbling through space. Yes, they aren't humans and don't have human levels of cognitive thinking, but suffering is not unique to humans and it is hard to be unmoved by the suffering of animals. Nature is not just one thing and DNA determinism is a simplification of a very complex biological reality.
posted by Kattullus at 5:58 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Creation groans.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:00 AM on November 6, 2013


By "ruin" we mean "change your positive anthropomorphism to negative anthropomorphism."
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:01 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nature is not interested one way or the other in suffering, unless it affects survival of DNA.

Tell it to the chipmunk torture pit my cat's built under the deck.
posted by echocollate at 6:07 AM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


How can I not anthropomorphize them when they take the time to send me such pithy messages?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:14 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


"The otter is a stranger despite our capacity to identify with her."
Discourse on the Otter.
posted by oulipian at 6:15 AM on November 6, 2013 [9 favorites]


Say It With Sea Otters is a blog where adorable cartoon animals deliver difficult messages act like jerks.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:15 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


chipmunk torture pit

This is my new musical side project.
posted by delfin at 6:15 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sea otter don't give a shit.
posted by spitbull at 6:17 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow. This is some master-level pedantry right here in this post.
posted by graphnerd at 6:23 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Animals aren't indifferent, unthinking rocks tumbling through space.

Like Dawkins said, "This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn."
posted by three blind mice at 6:24 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't even anthropomorhize humans anymore.
posted by malocchio at 6:25 AM on November 6, 2013 [23 favorites]


Does this mean that humans are a chimpanzee-DOLPHIN-pig hybrid now?
posted by molecicco at 6:25 AM on November 6, 2013


There's nothing like watching a family of river otters teach its kits to stalk, ambush, drown, and eat a brown pelican to disabuse you of the notion that they are adorable fuzzballs who would make good pets.
posted by rtha at 6:27 AM on November 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


That depends on whether you want pelicans around your house or not.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:33 AM on November 6, 2013 [17 favorites]


I am guessing most of the people who think sea otters or other animals are "jerks" are completely ignorant of the wide repercussions of a lot of their own routine behavior that causes suffering in many other animals and people as well.

There's nothing like watching a family of river otters teach its kits to stalk, ambush, drown, and eat a brown pelican to disabuse you of the notion that they are adorable fuzzballs who would make good pets.

And yet people are totally enthusiastic when their cat does exactly the same kind of thing to rats or mice.

(Don't get me wrong, I love my cat, though I don't let her out to hunt. But I also don't begrudge sea otters or penguins having to do what they need to in order to survive in the wild. It would be rankest hypocracy considering what humans do in my name to help me survive. We are all monsters, really, of course, when judged as people are judging the sea otters in the article. And also, sigh, more Slate outrage-baitlinking.)
posted by aught at 6:36 AM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


People are quoting Dawkins as gospel here?
posted by planetesimal at 6:41 AM on November 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


These messages are mean! They're just mean! This blog adds to the net meanness of the world.
posted by ORthey at 6:43 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


the same researcher found that “just the frozen head of the penguin, with self-adhesive white O’s for eye rings, propped upright on wire with a large rock for a body, was sufficient stimulus for males to copulate and deposit sperm on the rock.”

Essentially another species that can enjoy pornography?
posted by Phalene at 6:45 AM on November 6, 2013


There's a reason memes are still photos and not videos.
posted by tommasz at 6:50 AM on November 6, 2013


Yet another reason you shouldn't be exoticizing the otter.
posted by zamboni at 7:05 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


damn, i swear i double-checked the spelling of anthropomorphize, and still got it wrong.
posted by malocchio at 7:06 AM on November 6, 2013


Creation groans.

But does it do so intelligently?

the same researcher found that “just the frozen head of the penguin, with self-adhesive white O’s for eye rings, propped upright on wire with a large rock for a body, was sufficient stimulus for males to copulate and deposit sperm on the rock.”

Yeah, marriage gets like that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:06 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's a bit rich for Dawkins to criticise anthropomorphism, isn't it? This is the man who made his name by attributing selfishness to bits of chemistry. Now, with blithe unselfconsciousness, he uses the hoary anthropomorphic metaphor of 'Mother Nature' and what she thinks or doesn't think to criticise it again. Dicky, Dicky: if you don't like this stuff, can you not stop doing it?
posted by Segundus at 7:08 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I challenge anyone to look at the photos in this paper [pdf] and feel the same way about otters again.

Here's the polite title: Lesions and Behavior Associated with Forced Copulation of Juvenile Pacific Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) by Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra lutris nereis)

mwahahahahaha!

To quote a piece:
A weaned harbor seal pup was resting onshore when an untagged male sea otter approached it, grasped it with its teeth and forepaws, bit it on the nose, and flipped it over. The harbor seal moved toward the water with the sea otter following closely. Once in the water, the sea otter gripped the harbor seal’s head with its forepaws and repeatedly bit it on the nose, causing a deep laceration. The sea otter and pup rolled violently in the water for approximately 15 min, while the pup struggled to free itself from the sea otter’s grasp. Finally, the sea otter positioned itself dorsal to the pup’s smaller body while grasping it by the head and holding it underwater in a position typical of mating sea otters. As the sea otter thrust his pelvis, his penis was extruded and intromission was observed. At 105 min into the encounter, the sea otter released the pup, now dead, and began grooming.
posted by redbeard at 7:10 AM on November 6, 2013


... Is any of this seriously supposed to be shocking or surprising?

Are people just posting this in the hopes that a particularly sheltered Victorian happens to be reading the internet today?
posted by kyrademon at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2013


Sea otter don't give a shit.

I think the shallow coastal seabeds would beg to differ.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:16 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I once saw a shirt which was similar to the Hooters logo except it said Otters and there was an otter. If someone can please locate such a shirt for purchase they may receive a finders fee.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:17 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hey, it's not like weasel has ever carried a positive connotation.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:18 AM on November 6, 2013


People are quoting Dawkins as gospel here?

I think they're just quoting Dawkins, really. "Gospel?" Really?
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:29 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dawkins as gospel

I see what you did there.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:31 AM on November 6, 2013


People are quoting Dawkins as gospel here?

It is easily the most hilarious thing I have seen around here in a while.
posted by elizardbits at 7:43 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure if we didn't get our food from supermarkets and restaurants we'd be a little more understanding of some of these "reprehensible" behaviors.
posted by rocket88 at 7:46 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


"…nature is not cruel, only piteously indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callously indifferent to all suffering...

George Murray Levick's long-suppressed "Sexual habits of the Adélie penguin" is pretty much all the evidence you need of this:

On one occasion one of the two chicks which were with their mother on a nest strayed away a short distance, and was at once caught by a hooligan cock, who misused it before the very eyes of its parent. The latter kept to her nest and the other chick whilst this took place, and when the strayed chick escaped from the cock and ran back to her, she would have nothing to do with it, pecking it whenever it attempted to return to the nest. Eventually it abandoned the attempt, and tried to get itself adopted by several other parents, none of which would have it, and it was so severely pecked that I was obliged at length to kill it to put it out of its pain.

The hooligan cocks seemed always to be on the watch for these strayed chicks, and as some of the colonies constantly had a little knot of these hanging about their outskirts, a chick, once it had lost itself, was almost certain to come to a speedy end in this way, should it not first be carried off by a Skua.

posted by ryanshepard at 7:46 AM on November 6, 2013


I'm not seeing the connection people are making between 1) mating a juvenile, unrelated species to vicious death to 2) stalking and eating prey.

But maybe that's just my weak, human nature talking here.
posted by weeyin at 7:57 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


You've never seen a cougar at work at a singles bar.
posted by delfin at 8:38 AM on November 6, 2013


Otters are Nature's MRAs.
MRAs are human otters.
I need to lie down.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:47 AM on November 6, 2013


Reprehensible behavior to those who anthropomorphize animals, yes.

But that's the only reason most people care about animals at all. People don't love cats for their cattiness, they love them because they're little friends who like to cuddle. Ironically, the people who seem to appreciate animals most in a non-anthropomorphized way are hunters (and scientists who study animals).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:49 AM on November 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


It seems a bit self-indulgent for the author of the Slate piece to go on at length about how "shocking" and "diabolical" animals can be and then say "What is natural is not inherently good or evil: It simply is".

Maybe self-indulgent isn't the term I mean; it feels like she's trying to have her cake and eat it too, by anthropomorphizing the hell out of this behavior in order to grab attention and then turn around and say "we mustn't anthropomorphize!"
posted by nickmark at 8:51 AM on November 6, 2013


People don't love cats for their cattiness, they love them because they're little friends who like to cuddle.

Nope. What I like most about having cats around is that they are alien creatures who remind me that 'countertop' is not a category that exists in nature, that many characteristics are shared between a human face and a radiator, that it is possible to respond to patterns of movement rather than to objects per se, and that reflections are truly eerie phenomena. All that, and they're also soooo soft.
posted by Acheman at 8:55 AM on November 6, 2013 [11 favorites]


The otters that keep shitting in the cockpit of my sailboat are truly reprehensible. These are river otters, but still....
posted by humboldt32 at 9:00 AM on November 6, 2013


anthropomorphizing the hell out of this behavior in order to grab attention and then turn around and say "we mustn't anthropomorphize!"

Some people really do need "feelings aren't logical" spelled out for them over and over and...

Which does not mean you should disown all that makes you and your fellow human beings human. **COUGHprofessorricharddawkinsCOUGH**
posted by tigrrrlily at 9:04 AM on November 6, 2013


I challenge anyone to look at the photos in this paper [pdf] and feel the same way about otters again.

Dramatic much? Do you think all humans are repulsive after reading an article about a rapist-murderer in the newspaper?
posted by aught at 9:05 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dramatic much? Do you think all humans are repulsive after reading an article about a rapist-murderer in the newspaper?

Yes.
posted by redbeard at 9:11 AM on November 6, 2013


Do some of you people not know *anything* about the wild?

One sad spring was the year when robins built a nest outside our bathroom window, and we witnessed all three chicks and then one of the parents die unpleasantly over the course of a couple months due either to sibling aggression, accident, or falcon attack. And then to take a step back and think that this sort of thing is not uncommon.

I mean, all those baby bunnies chewing clover in the yard in the early summer every year... and we don't have an over-population of rabbits. Which means most of them meet a bad end. Similar story with every other bird and mammal I see in the yard. Animals have a lot of young because most of them are destined to die before adulthood. That's a lot of sentimentalize-able suffering, if you want to play that game.

Semi-relatedly it was pondering this sort of endless horrific cruelty and suffering so universal in the living world which drove the Buddha to become the Buddha.
posted by aught at 9:15 AM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Animals in the wild spend the vast majority of their lives dealing with the bottom level of Maslow's heirarchy of needs, with brief sojourns into the second and third levels.
Morality doesn't even come into play.
posted by rocket88 at 9:29 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, yeah, each little moment of happiness stands atop a giant pyramid of suffering, built on a mountain of death, surrounded by an ocean of nothingness. What of it?

All of this is making those indifferent, unthinking rocks tumbling through space seem downright adorable.
posted by chambers at 9:39 AM on November 6, 2013


So the male sea otters who rape seal puppies to death were themselves raised as captives and then released into the wilds of Monterrey Bay as adults. Childhood trauma manifesting as degenerate adult behavior; that's a really interesting parallel to the kinds of behavioral pathologies seen in us 'higher' mammals, isn't it?
posted by jackbrown at 10:11 AM on November 6, 2013


attributing selfishness to bits of chemistry

Segundus: have you actually read any Dawkins? I suspect you haven't read The Selfish Gene or The Extended Phenotype if you made this statement with any degree of seriousness at all. (Or maybe my joke filter is malfunctioning and you meant absolutely nothing by this ;) )

If you haven't read them, they're worth a look; the point of both books is to consider natural selection from the perspective of individual genes on the chromosome rather than only from the point of view of the organism as a whole.
posted by jackbrown at 10:19 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The identity of a pair of repeat offenders held a clue. At least two of the sea otters had been previously held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of their rehabilitation program for stranded and injured otters. There was nothing obviously wrong with these rehabbed otters, but the trouble they experienced early in their lives might have made them more likely assailants.
Interesting. The recent Nature episode Saving Otter 501 is all about this program, and it's really excellent. But it probably doesn't need saying that the idea that a rescued and rehabilitated otter might stand a higher than usual chance of being an asshole as an adult isn't something they go into...
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:52 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I once saw a shirt which was similar to the Hooters logo except it said Otters and there was an otter. If someone can please locate such a shirt for purchase they may receive a finders fee.
Sea Otter Shirts Monterey, third row down?
posted by islander at 11:15 AM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Apropos of very little, the restaurant the wife and I were at last week had Trivial Pursuit cards in the sugar-packet holder, and the science question on one was, "What animal is the second most intelligent creature on Earth?"

"Humans?" my wife answered.
posted by gern at 11:34 AM on November 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Otters don't have laws and social mores that prevent them from committing their wanton acts of butchery and mischief, though.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:39 AM on November 6, 2013


That blog would work better if it was just photos. The drawings aren't cute, which kind of kills the joke.
posted by Sebmojo at 12:38 PM on November 6, 2013


Does any of this come with a Werner Herzog voiceover?
posted by gimonca at 12:48 PM on November 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


My friend Evan writes this blog (along with being a contributor of Laughing Squid), his previous endeavor Yelping With Cormac made the cut for the 2013 Non-Required Reading.

That blog would work better if it was just photos. The drawings aren't cute, which kind of kills the joke.

Stealing images off the Internet makes for better content then the original artwork his partner draws for each submission?
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:09 PM on November 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I challenge anyone to look at the photos in this paper [pdf] and feel the same way about otters again.

As the sea otter thrust his pelvis, his penis was extruded and intromission was observed. At 105 min into the encounter, the sea otter released the pup, now dead, and began grooming.


You're right: I'm kind of in awe now.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:39 PM on November 6, 2013


Did that 105 minutes include the foreplay, er, preliminary assault as well?
posted by planetesimal at 3:44 PM on November 6, 2013


This late in the thread, can I possibly be the first one to note that a very long time ago, it was noted that nature "is red in tooth and claw"?
posted by kozad at 7:30 PM on November 6, 2013


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