Designing the Lutran Confederacy

 Image from  Wikipedia . But you're not looking at this comment. Those things are adorable.

Image from Wikipedia. But you're not looking at this comment. Those things are adorable.

Getting ready to write Claws of the Chimera has meant doing a fair amount of research into different animals - their physical characteristics, group structure, and habits. Last week's Pocket Fiction featured a giant sea otter, so here's a few bits and pieces about sea otters!

 Otters spend most of their time at sea, mating, raising young, eating, and sleeping there. These pups can't sink or dive yet. Image ©  PDTillman  

Otters spend most of their time at sea, mating, raising young, eating, and sleeping there. These pups can't sink or dive yet. Image © PDTillman 

  • Sea otters are found on coasts all over the world - Russia, Japan, Canada, America. Anywhere where the sea temperature is good for them - between about 35°F and 60°F. I'm designing a fantasy world, so this informs whereabouts on the planet my country will be. I used this map of Earth's sea temperatures to help place it.
  • When swimming underwater, sea otters make use of several evolutionary tools: webbed feet, ear flaps, tails designed to be used as rudders, and whiskers able to sense vibrations in the water. They also have good underwater eyesight. All this makes up for not being very good on land, as this video shows. For Claws of the Chimera, it was natural to place sea-otters in port towns. They'd also go up and down the river for trading.
  • Probably the most awesome fact about sea otters: they are tool users. They have skin pouches under their front legs in which they keep their favourite rock. They can use it to hit molluscs to loosen them, at a rate of about 45 hits in 15 seconds.
  • Any giant otters would probably be quite vain. With over a million strands of hair per square inch, they're able to keep cold water away from their skin and thus stay warm. For contrast, humans have only 100,000 strands of hair on their heads. Grooming is naturally a big part; they clean themselves of scraps of food, and spend a lot of time untangling their fur and getting knots out.
  • Other resources:
    • http://seaotters.com/ was really useful for a general species overview, and one or two specific details.
    • The Oregon Coast Aquarium website, which is unfortunately missing all of its pictures. Good checklist of all the tools that sea otters have at their disposal.
    • Wikipedia's article on sea otters. Wikipedia is almost always my first stop for things like this.
    • I can't finish this without mentioning Brian Jacques' book 'The Pearls of Lutra'. As a child, reading this kindled in me a love of puzzles, cryptic clues, and fantasy quests. Also, a really good-fun series of books for children and adults alike. Both 'Lutra' and 'the Lutran Confederacy' come from the same root: the latin name for otters, lutra lutra. 

The text for 'Slave', the short story I used in Pocket Fiction, can be found here.

I took a few deep breaths, then closed the flaps over my nostrils and ears. The lapping of the waves was swallowed by the rushing sound of blood through my head as I took a few scuttling steps down the sand and slid into the water.
For a while, the world shrank down to just the undulating waves and me. My hind legs, toes spread to better use the webbing between them, quickly began to ache, but I forced the pain down, falling into a comfortable rhythm. Dive. Swim, until my lungs burn with the urge to breathe. Turn. Surface. Gasp in sea-spray air. Repeat...
— 'Slave'