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Newborn Alaskan Sea Otter Finds Safe Haven at Pittsburgh Zoo

Otter CU

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, working along with the Alaska SeaLife Center, has provided a safe home for a newborn Sea Otter pup found stranded along an Alaskan coastline. He was found lying next to other sea otters, all who had died from exposure when they were cut off from the ocean by a frozen bay; In an attempt to get to the ocean, they accidentally beached themselves off the coast of Port Heiden.

“We told the caregivers how to keep him alive until we could arrive,” said Brett Long, husbandry director at the Alaskan SeaLife Center. The most important concern was to ensure the pup was in a cool environment, that its temperature remained steady, and it received fluids and electrolytes. The residents used a baby bottle filled with Pedialyte, a milk replacer, to feed the pup every couple of hours.

The next milestone for the little pup will be to acclimate to his new environment in Pittsburgh, begin eating solid food, respond to keeper’s cues which will teach him cooperative and husbandry behaviors. These behaviors will allow him to participate in his own care such as voluntary weigh-ins, and presentation of paws and flippers. He will develop his natural instincts as he grows and when he is bigger will be slowly introduced to Alki and Chugach, the Zoo’s current sea otter residents. Visitors are able to see the little pup in a special nursery in the lower level of Water’s Edge.

Ice bin


Photo Credit: Alaska SeaLife Center

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“The little otter is very lucky,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “Sea otter pups depend on three things to survive—food, body temperature, and their coat being in good condition. They must eat enough food to replenish 35% of their body weight.”

When the pup became separated from his mother, it was only a matter of hours before he would become hypoglycemic from not eating.  Mothers also care for their pup’s coats until they are old enough to do it alone. So he was susceptible to exposure as well because his fur was matted and did not provide proper protection.

Once the ASLC and the Pittsburgh Zoo staff agreed on transporting the little otter to Pittsburgh, they quickly utilized a relationship with FedEx, whose FedEx Ground operating company is headquartered in Pittsburgh, to organize transport  from Anchorage to Pittsburgh though FedEx Express’s air network.  FedEx successfully transported the two sea otters currently at the Zoo in 2007. “We are so very grateful for the support of FedEx and their utmost attention to detail when transporting our precious cargo,”

Says Dr. Baker. The otter was accompanied by the Zoo’s marine mammal staff and one of the veterinarians from the Alaska SeaLife Center.

“FedEx, in cooperation with zoos and animal preserves around the world, is recognized for its safe transport of rare and delicate cargo,” said Bruce Clemmons, manager of the FedEx Express Live Animal Desk.  “We are proud to have put our years of experience and delivery resources to work ensuring a safe and secure arrival for this tough young pup.”