Face it. You are not worthy of grooming this obscenely adorable baby sea otter. But Cayucos (that's her name) is a kind and loving sea otter, and she will allow you to groom her if you absolutely insist upon it.

All jokes aside, sea otter pups like Cayucos here actually have to be groomed by humans all the time when they're raised in captivity. Baby otters are usually looked after by their mothers for the first 3—6 months of their lives, when the pup will learn to feed itself and groom its own coat, with mom helping out on a need-be basis.

But Cayucos is an orphan, so she has to be cared for by her human handlers at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago; and it turns out grooming is one of the most important things a handler can do for her. According to Joanne Manaster, who put together this aww-inspiring post on the science of baby animals at the Shedd Aquarium:

From Shedd's website: "Keeping the pup's thick fur clean, dry and fluffed is essential to her survival. Sea otters are the only marine mammals that aren't wrapped in an insulating blanket of blubber. Instead, they have about 1 million hairs per square inch of skin, divided into an outer layer of thick guard hairs and an inner layer of dense, wooly underfur honeycombed with millions of tiny air pockets. The layers work together to keep water out and body heat in. If the fur becomes matted or fouled with pollutants such as oil, cold sea water penetrates to the otter's skin and the animal can quickly succumb to hypothermia. Otters shed their fur gradually and throughout the year so that they are never without this vital protection."

Read more about Cayucos over on PsiVid.

[SciAm via BoingBoing]