Monterey Bay Aquarium

Remembering Toola, A Pioneering Sea Otter

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The Monterey Bay Aquarium regrets to announce the passing of Toola, a female Sea Otter who was arguably the most important animal in the 28-year history of the aquarium’s pioneering Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. Toola died early Saturday morning (March 3) in the aquarium’s veterinary care center, of natural causes and infirmities of age.

She was the first rescued Sea Otter ever to raise pups that were successfully returned to the wild; and was the inspiration for state legislation that better protects Sea Otters.

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Toola was about 15 or 16 years old when she died. She was rescued as a mature adult (5+ years of age) when she was found stranded on Pismo Beach on July 21, 2001. She suffered from neurological disorders, likely caused by infection of her brain by the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. The resulting seizure disorder required twice-daily anticonvulsant medication and prevented her release back into the wild.

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But she quickly became a pioneer for the aquarium – on exhibit and behind the scenes. Toola was the first Otter ever to serve as a surrogate mother for stranded pups. She raised 13 pups over the years, including one that was weaned from her on Friday as her health declined. Of the 11 pups already released to the wild, at least 5 are still surviving – including the first animal she reared in 2001. Her pups have matured in the wild and gone on to give birth to 7 pups of their own, 5 of which have weaned successfully. Two more of her pups are still behind the scenes, on track for release later this year.

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Toola’s most famous pup is the subject of a new feature film, Otter 501, which debuted in February at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

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Photo credits: ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

On exhibit, Toola’s story of exposure to the toxoplasmosis parasite that can be carried by cats inspired then-California State Assemblymember (now Insurance Commissioner) Dave Jones to introduce legislation to better protect California’s threatened sea otter population. His bill, co-authored with current California Resources Secretary John Laird, became law in 2006. Among other provisions, it created the California Sea Otter Fund that has generated more than $1 million in voluntary taxpayer contributions to support research into disease and other threats facing Sea Otters in the wild.

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Rescued Sea Otter Pup United With Surrogate Mom On Valentine's Day!

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A rescued male Sea Otter pup, being cared for by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, was just placed on the Sea Otter exhibit on Valentine’s Day with experienced surrogate sea otter mother, Joy. The debut of the 8 week old pup makes him the youngest Sea Otter in the aquarium’s history to become part of the two-story exhibit, which is a permanent home for rescued Sea Otters that can’t be returned to the wild. The pup, known as 572, is the 572nd stranded Sea Otter to be brought into the aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program since 1984. He will be named after he is transferred to his permanent home – another accredited facility – later this year.

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©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

Pup 572 came to the aquarium on January 5 from a Cayucos-area beach (San Luis Obispo County) as a 2 week-old stranded animal weighing less than six pounds. On arrival he was found to have a superficial laceration on his right shoulder, possibly the result of a great white shark bite that may have killed his mother. He was admitted into the aquarium’s veterinary intensive care unit, where he was cared for until he was introduced to surrogate mother Joy on exhibit after the aquarium closed to the public on February 13. He is the seventh pup, in the last two years, to enter the aquarium’s Sea Otter program after the mother presumably suffered a fatal bite from a great white shark. Pup 572 now weighs 15 pounds, having gained 9 pounds in just under six weeks and is a robust, healthy, developmentally normal pup.

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Little Miss 502

Little Sea Otter pup #502 arrived at the Monterey Bay Aquarium after being discovered weak, sick and alone on a California beach. After four weeks of antibiotics delivered via frozen clams and a behind the scenes introduction to a surrogate mother named Joy, #502 went on exhibit to the public last week. She got her temporary numerical name because she was the 502nd Sea Otter rescued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's SORAC program since its founding in 1984. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing nature of #502's medical treatment, she cannot be released back into the wild because she won't have the necessary wild-otter skills. Eventually she may be introduced to another orphan turned education animal, the not-to-be-missed Kit, who we met earlier in the summer.

Baby sea otter 502 at moneterey bay aquariumPhoto credits: © Monterey Bay Aquarium / Randy Wilder

Read the whole story below the fold.

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Young Turtles, the Size of a Dinner Plate

On July 1st the Monterey Bay Aquarium placed five lively juvenile green sea turtles on exhibit as part of its “Hot Pink Flamingos: Stories of Hope in a Changing Sea” special exhibition. The young sea turtles are just under 9 months old and each is about the size of a dinner plate. The sea turtles are featured in a gallery that shows how rising temperatures could alter the gender of an incubating clutch of sea turtle eggs, or how rising sea levels threaten sea turtles’ nesting beaches.

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Green sea turtle monterey bay aquarium 2 rsPhoto credits: ©Monterey Bay Aquarium / Randy Wilder 

Senior Aquarist Veronica Franklin brought 10 young sea turtles to the aquarium on June 24 from SeaWorld San Diego, where they were among 82 hatchlings born October 5 to resident sea turtles in the park’s “Shipwreck Beach.” The sea turtles’ gender will remain a mystery until they mature a little more. 

The young sea turtles at the aquarium will rotate between the exhibit and behind-the-scenes holding pools. The two larger turtles they replaced, as well as some of the smaller turtles, will be part of the aquarium’s remodeled “Open Sea” galleries that open in July 2011.

There’s more information online about their background, and how Franklin and her staff care for the turtles, at www.montereybayaquarium.org/exhibitupdates.


Sea Otter Research and Conservation

The Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program is renowned for its success at rescuing orphan pups and releasing them back into the wild. Just last week, Monterey celebrated the news that two female sea otters raised as stranded pups by surrogate mothers at the aquarium have each given birth in the wild to their second set of pups. Programs like SORAC demonstrate the direct link between the groundbreaking research efforts performed at many accredited zoos and conservation efforts in the field. 

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Photo credits: © Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder

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Orphan Otter Finds a Home at Monterey

In a story both heartbreaking and heartwarming, a baby Sea Otter was rescued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium after losing her mother. The young otter was found crying and desperately trying to climb on adult females in Morro Bay, seeking her missing mother. Already occupied with their own pups, the adult otters repeatedly pushed the little girl away. With things looking increasingly desperate, staff decided to rescue the pup and bring her back to the Aquarium. Learn more here but as you can see in the pictures and video below, Kit is in a wonderful new home with a loving companion, 9 year old Sea Otter "Mae."

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You can also see more via Monterey Bay Aquarium's live webcam


The Secret Lives of (Baby) Seahorses

Yesterday the Monterey Bay Aquarium unveiled its newest exhibit, The Secret Lives of Seahorses, showcasing 15 species of seahorses, sea dragons, pipehorses and pipefish. Seahorses are unique in the animal kingdom because the male becomes pregnant and gives birth. The tiny babies stay close to their protective father by clinging to nearby plants with their strong tails.

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Dwarf Seahorses © Monterey Bay Aquarium

If you live anywhere in the United States, Western Hemisphere or planet earth, we strongly recommend you make the trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium to see these extraordinary creatures. In lieu of that, enjoy this webcast or at least watch the cool video below.