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.
Weighing in at 2.7 kg and nearly 60 cm long, the female pup arrived at 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.
“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.
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)