Meet (And Squeal Over) The Sea Otter's Forgotten, Adorable Little Cousin

Sea otters get a lot of love - and rightfully so. They are amazing, quirky, adorable and wickedly intelligent little marine mammals. It's no wonder they cast such a large shadow, but it would be a shame to overlook their smaller, freshwater-dwelling relatives: river otters.

River otters are fun-sized otters.

(Wikimedia Commons)

River otters weigh only a dainty 20 to 28 pounds (much smaller than their 80-pound sea cousins). They sport an extra fat layer for warmth - making them tinier, pudgier, beard-ier (and arguably cuter) versions of sea otters.

They give birth to multiple pups. Which means multiple cuteness!

(Stolz, Gary M, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

What's more heart-melting than a baby otter? Four baby otters! Unlike sea otters, who give birth to one pup at a time, river otters are known to birth as many as four pups at a time. It's a miracle that their underground dens can contain so much cuteness.

Mother river otters exercise their own version of tough love.

(Flickr User: sabertasche2)

To teach pups how to swim, mother river otters simply push them into the water and supervise their struggle. Despite being natural swimmers, pups are born on land, necessitating an adorable "sink-or-swim" moment as part of their coming of age.

They are just as playful as their party animal cousins, sea otters.

(Flickr user: lutramania)

It isn't an uncommon sight to find a family of river otters playing on land. They're known for using snow-covered or muddy hills as makeshift slides (preferably ending in the water, of course).

They're really fast (and sort of awkward) runners.

(Wikimedia Commons)

With smaller, rounder paws than the wide-webbed, flipper-like hands of their saltwater cousins, river otters are much more agile on land. They can even outrun humans over a short distance. Despite their speed, a sprinting river otter remains just as endearingly awkward as expected.

They need friends!

(Martin Richard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

River otters are currently designated "least concern" by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, as their populations have rebounded due to clean water regulations and successful habitat reintroduction programs. However, their double layer of fur makes them extremely susceptible to environmental pollution. And sadly, such strong, durable pelts also make them a target of the fur industry.

Though the IUCN doesn't foresee extinction in the river otter's immediate future, it advocates for strict regulation of the fur industry's harvesting of the species for its pelts.