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Res­cued sea otter pup offered 2nd chance by Shedd Aquarium

pub­lished 09 Novem­ber 2014 | mod­i­fied 09 Novem­ber 2014

A rec­og­nized leader in ani­mal care and con­ser­va­tion, Chicago’s Shedd Aquar­ium announced today that it has wel­comed a five-​week-​old orphaned south­ern sea otter pup (Enhy­dra lutris nereis) from the United States Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice (USFWS) as part of a col­lab­o­ra­tive part­ner­ship with Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium – a lead­ing author­ity for the res­cue and con­ser­va­tion of the threat­ened species.

Sea-otter-pup681 bottleWeigh­ing in at 2.7 kg and nearly 60 cm long, the female pup arrived at Shedd last Tues­day from Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium in Cal­i­for­nia, where she spent the first four weeks of her life being sta­bi­lized. The pup has been doing well since her arrival, receiv­ing con­tin­ual care behind the scenes of Shedd’s Abbott Ocea­narium. She is the sec­ond pup from the threat­ened south­ern sea otter pop­u­la­tion to reside at Shedd. Cur­rently referred to as “Pup 681,” Shedd’s ani­mal care and vet­eri­nar­ian teams are pro­vid­ing the con­tin­ual, round-​the-​clock care she needs to thrive.

It truly takes a vil­lage to reha­bil­i­tate a young sea otter. Our ani­mal care team is teach­ing the pup how to be an otter
Tim Binder, Vice Pres­i­dent of Ani­mal Col­lec­tions for Shedd Aquarium »

Pup 681’s sit­u­a­tion was urgent. As an orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to marine mam­mal care and con­ser­va­tion, we were per­fectly posi­tioned to ensure that this lit­tle pup had a home, pro­vid­ing the long-​term care needed to sur­vive,” said Binder. “This res­cued ani­mal pro­vides an oppor­tu­nity for us to learn more about the bio­log­i­cal and behav­ioural attrib­utes of this threat­ened species and to encour­age peo­ple to pre­serve and pro­tect them in the wild.”

Esti­mated to be only one week old and weigh­ing in at just over 1.0 kg, the female pup was found on Sep­tem­ber 30 on Coast­ways Beach in Cal­i­for­nia between the San Mateo and Santa Cruz county line. A cit­i­zen on an evening walk heard the new­born otter’s cry and quickly noti­fied The Marine Mam­mal Cen­ter (TMMC). TMMC staff con­tacted Mon­terey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Pro­gram and sci­en­tists deter­mined the pup could not be retrieved that evening due to the remote loca­tion and impend­ing dark­ness. On the morn­ing of Octo­ber 1, the pup was still in the same loca­tion and deter­mined to have been orphaned. Sci­en­tists from the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Sea Otter Pro­gram responded imme­di­ately to recover the pup and trans­port her to Mon­terey Bay Aquarium.

On arrival at Mon­terey Bay Aquar­ium, 681 weighed 1.0 kg, which is tiny for a new­born sea otter, and she had been sep­a­rated from mom for at least 16 hours. This meant it was crit­i­cal that we begin to get calo­ries into her as quickly as pos­si­ble,” said Karl Mayer, Ani­mal Care Coor­di­na­tor for the Sea Otter Program.

The Mon­terey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Pro­gram has been study­ing and help­ing recover the threat­ened south­ern sea otter since 1984. The pro­gram works with other aquar­i­ums, such as Shedd, and wildlife res­cue facil­i­ties to respond to every sea otter that comes ashore in dis­tress along the Cal­i­for­nia coast. Over the past 25 years, nearly 700 sea otters – adults and pups – have come through this pro­gram, which res­cues, treats and releases injured otters; raises and releases stranded pups through a sur­ro­gacy pro­gram; pro­vides care for sea otters that can’t return to the wild; and con­ducts sci­en­tific research.

Stranded sea otter pups require exten­sive round-​the-​clock care and there are only a hand­ful of facil­i­ties in the United States with the avail­able space, staff and expe­ri­ence to pro­vide the appro­pri­ate care. Shedd offi­cials and ani­mal care staff quickly accepted Mon­terey Bay Aquarium’s call to pro­vide the stranded pup with a per­ma­nent home.

To ensure the pup receives every­thing that she needs, a rotat­ing sched­ule of six to eight ani­mal care experts pro­vides care and atten­tion 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dur­ing this inten­sive nur­tur­ing period, she will remain behind the scenes in the Regen­stein Sea Otter Nurs­ery as she devel­ops cer­tain behav­iours, such as groom­ing, for­ag­ing, and feed­ing, as well as reg­u­lat­ing her own body tem­per­a­ture by get­ting in and out of the water.

Footage of the arrival of Sea otter pup 681 and her first days at Shedd Aquar­ium. Beware of the tough look­ing guys melt­ing away for this cute lit­tle endan­gered marine preda­tor:

(Credit Shedd Aquarium)

It truly takes a vil­lage to reha­bil­i­tate a young sea otter. Our ani­mal care team is teach­ing the pup how to be an otter,” said Binder. “While the process is lengthy, our hands-​on expe­ri­ence and long his­tory reha­bil­i­tat­ing sea otters allows us to use our exper­tise to work on sav­ing this pup’s life by pro­vid­ing her with a home and the care she needs.”

As she accli­mates to her new sur­round­ings, Pup 681 reaches new mile­stones every day, includ­ing tak­ing for­mula from a bot­tle, eat­ing solid foods such as shrimp and clams and even climb­ing upon white tow­els when she gets wet to help her groom and reg­u­late her body temperature.

Annual sur­veys from the United States Geo­log­i­cal Sur­vey (USGS) indi­cate that the south­ern sea otter pop­u­la­tion index reached 2,944 in 2014 – a slight growth from 2,939 in 2013. Mark­ing its 50th year of ser­vice assess­ing 74,000 species, the Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature (IUCN) clas­si­fies sea otters as Endan­gered on its Red List of Threat­ened Species, ref­er­enc­ing the slow recov­ery of south­ern sea otters in Cal­i­for­nia. South­ern sea otters were listed as “threat­ened” under the U.S. Endan­gered Species Act in 1977. The pop­u­la­tion of south­ern sea otters has failed to grow con­sis­tently despite decades of fed­eral and state protection.

About Sea Otters
As the small­est marine mam­mal, sea otters are mem­bers of the weasel or mustelid fam­ily. Adult females can weigh between 16 and 27 kg; males reach up to 40 kg. Instead of blub­ber to keep them warm, they have very thick hair that con­sists of two lay­ers: an under­coat and longer guard hairs. The otter’s fur is impor­tant to their sur­vival, so they spend up to four hours a day groom­ing. If they do not keep their coat immac­u­late, they risk get­ting cold and dying of hypother­mia.

Pups stay with their moth­ers until they are up to eight months old. Otters do not mate for life, but form a bond that lasts for three or four days. After mat­ing, the male leaves the female and is not involved in rais­ing the pup. Sea otters must eat at least 25 per­cent of their body weight each day to main­tain a high meta­bolic rate, which keeps their inter­nal body tem­per­a­ture at about 38°C. They eat bottom-​dwelling nearshore ani­mals, such as abalone, clams, sea urchins, crabs and octopus.

(Source: Shedd Aquar­ium press release, 04.11.2014)

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