Natalie Uomini. Haslam et al. 2019., Wild sea otter mussel pounding leaves archaeological traces,.Scientific Reports

Sea otters leave their mark on shoreline rocks they use to crack open shells, researchers reported yesterday (March 14) in Scientific Reports. They are the only marine mammals known to use stones as tools, which help them break the shells of mussels and other mollusks. Sea otters use rocks to get to their food while floating along on their backs, but also bash mollusks on fixed “anvil” stones along the shore.

In 10 years of observing wild sea otters (Enhydra lutris) at a California site, the authors noticed a distinct pattern to the damage the animals left on anvil stones. The authors also observed that mussel shells at these sites were generally cracked in...

M. Haslam et al., “Wild sea otter mussel pounding leaves archaeological traces,” Scientific Reports, doi:10.1038/s41598-019-39902-y, 2019.

Mussel shell breakage patterns: (A) Outer and (B) inner faces of each valve; (C) drawing of the exterior of a mussel shell showing the typical sea otter breakage pattern (illustration by Neil Smith); (D) broken mussel shells in situ
Image (C): Neil Smith; Images (A), (B), & (D): Michael Haslam. Haslam et al. 2019. Wild sea otter mussel pounding leaves archaeological traces. Scientific Reports

Interested in reading more?

The Scientist ARCHIVES

Become a Member of

Receive full access to more than 35 years of archives, as well as TS Digest, digital editions of The Scientist, feature stories, and much more!
Already a member?