Can Otters Breathe Underwater? [No! Here’s Why]

can otters breathe underwater

There are 13 different otter species around the globe. And most of them spend the majority of their time in the water.

The water plays an unchained part in every otter’s life. They are excellent swimmers, and they love to swim. Baby otters learn to swim when they are about two months old.

But what about breathing? Can otters breathe underwater?

No, otters can’t breathe underwater. The reason otters cannot breathe underwater is Otters breathe by inhaling air from above the water. Like all mammals, otters have lungs, and they need oxygen in order to survive. Unlike fish, who use gill to take oxygen directly from water, otters have lungs and different respiratory systems. 

In this article, I will share everything I’ve learned about otters’ water abilities.

Let’s start.

Can otters breathe underwater?

Otters cannot breathe underwater. Like humans or any other mammal, they need to breathe air to get oxygen. All mammals have lungs, which are the main breathing organs. They bring oxygen into their bodies and send carbon dioxide out.

Otters are semi-aquatic animals, and they need access to both land and water to survive.

During winter times, when the water freezes, otters still find a way to breathe. They will make small holes in the ice so that they can still access the air above the water. Otters have two layers of fur. Soft underfur, protected by long guard hairs. These fur protections help otters stay warm and dry even in cold temperatures.

Otters’ ability to stay long underwater plays an important part in wilderness survival. The longer they hold their breath, the higher the probability of them sensing or catching the prey.

As they dive inside the water, otters close their nostrils and ears, preventing water to come in.

Related Post: Can Polar Bears Breathe Underwater?

How long can otters hold their breath?

Otters are natural-born swimmers. Webbed feet and strong muscular tails make an otter an exceptional swimmer. Most species will spend a larger part of their lives besides water.

Otters have the ability to hold their breath for up to 8 minutes before returning to the surface to inhale air. However, otters will usually hunt in shorter dives and will stay no longer than 4 minutes underwater before returning to the surface.

Even though otters do not have the ability to breathe underwater, their lung capacity is huge. Compared to other similar-sized mammals, otters have two-and-a-half times the greater capacity. (source)

When doing a long dive, these semi-aquatic creatures can go as 60 feet deep and swim more than 1,300 feet in one breath.

Can otters see underwater?

Otters have very good eyesight, and they can see underwater as well as on the surface.

Their vision abilities are probably the most important hunting sense.

A combination of underwater vision and whiskers are powerful tools that make otters great water hunters. Whiskers are short hair around the mouth that helps the otter feel the prey’s movements.

However, depending on the water’s depth, otter’s hunting strategies may differ.

Are otters colorblind?

Studies show that otters are not color blind but can’t distinguish colors as well as humans. However, they can see different color variations.

Can otters smell underwater?

Otters have a very well-developed sense of smell. These mammals will usually hunt during the night when their vision is limited.

Yet, there are no studies confirming with 100% certainty that otters can smell underwater.

However, the theory is that otters can smell underwater by exhaling bubbles from their nostrils and quickly sniffing them back. Which allows them to capture the sense of the water around them.

How fast can otters swim?

Otters are excellent swimmers, and most species are quite fast. Swimming abilities are an absolute necessity for them in order to catch fish or other water prey.

Otters will use their webbed feet and strong tails for fast movement inside the water.

The fastest species is the Giant otter. Their speed is very impressive, reaching a maximum of 9 miles per hour. North American otter speed was observed to be 6.8 miles per hour. While sea otters are the slowest ones, with a speed of 5.6 miles per hour.


Otters cannot breathe underwater. However, they can hold their breath for up to 8 minutes. Strong tails and webbed feet make otters great swimmers. Otter’s vision is considered to be the most important hunting sense. The fastest otter species can reach a speed of 9 miles per hour.