Rescued Sea Otter Pups Get a Second Chance At Shedd Aquarium
July 21, 2019
The Shedd Aquarium welcomed two orphaned Southern Sea Otter pups that were rescued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
The pups, temporarily referred to as Pups 870 and 872, will remain behind the scenes for a few months as they reach important developmental milestones and build bonds with the care staff and the other Otters at Shedd before they are officially introduced to the Otter habitat.
Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez
Video credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Sam Cejtin
The Otter pups arrived at Shedd on Monday, July 8 and have been thriving behind the scenes, receiving around the clock care from Shedd’s animal care and veterinary teams. Both Otter pups are male and only one week apart in age and born in mid-May. Pup 872 is younger and weighs 13.4 pounds. Pup 870 weighs in at 17 pounds.
The Otters were both taken in by Monterey Bay Aquarium and deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This designation means that because the pups weren’t mother-raised and taught how to survive in the wild, they would not be successful if released into their natural habitat. Shedd offered to provide a home for the pups because Monterey Bay’s successful Sea Otter surrogacy program is currently at capacity with other pups in need.
Pup 870 was discovered stranded on May 18 near Stillwater Cove in Carmel Bay. While the pup was clinically healthy, attempts to locate the mother were unsuccessful, and staff did not want to risk leaving the pup vulnerable and alone.
The second pup, Pup 872, was brought in two days later, on May 20. Pup 872 was found distressed and vocalizing in high winds and heavy surf at Asilomar State Beach. The pup was shivering, hypothermic and its coat was filled with sand – suggesting it was tossed in the surf. The decision was made to immediately take in the pup for stabilization and no further attempts were made to locate a mother.
Read the rest of the pups' story and see more photos below!
Caring for orphaned Sea Otter pups requires extensive care, involving everything from feeding and veterinary check-ups to grooming, playing and more. And only a handful of facilities in the United States have available space, staff and experience to provide that level of care. Currently, 11 institutions across North America, including Shedd, provide homes for 36 non-releasable Southern Sea Otters. Shedd officials and animal care staff quickly accepted Monterey Bay Aquarium’s call to provide the stranded pups with a new home.
“These two pups kept us busy from the moment we arrived,” said Tracy Deakins, senior trainer at Shedd Aquarium who accompanied the Otter pups on their trip to Chicago. “It was an incredibly rewarding experience to see all that Monterey Bay does for Sea Otters and to bring these two pups to their new home here at Shedd.”
As Pups 870 and 872 familiarize with their new surroundings, they’ll also continue to achieve many important milestones, which include eating solid foods such as shrimp and clams and building important Otter skills like foraging for food, grooming on their own and socializing with the other Otters and with Shedd’s animal care team.
“While everyone may not be able to go out and rescue or provide a home for a Sea Otter in need, we have to remember that the survival of a species like the Southern Sea Otter is a group effort – it takes all of us,” said Sloan. “Southern Sea Otters would not be around today if it weren’t for dedicated individuals who passed critical legislation like the Endangered Species Act, providing the protections necessary for the populations to rebound. Our job is to facilitate a connection between the guests at the aquarium and nature to help the public see that we all have the ability to make a difference.”
Since 1984, Monterey Bay Aquarium has been studying and actively helping to recover the threatened Southern Sea Otter, which was decimated by the fur trade for over a century. As part of this work, Monterey Bay Aquarium has long been the primary facility designated to receive stranded Southern Sea Otter pups and adults, developing expertise, protocols and procedures to raise orphaned pups for return to the wild.
The Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program works with wildlife rescue facilities and other aquariums, such as Shedd, to respond to every Sea Otter that comes ashore in distress along the California coast. To date, the program has taken in 876 Sea Otters, finding new homes for 78 of those animals that were deemed not to be good candidates for release back into the wild.
The smallest marine mammal species, Sea Otters are members of the Weasel family. Adult females can weigh between 35 and 60 pounds; males reach up to 90 pounds. 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. Sea Otters are listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
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 100 degrees. They eat bottom-dwelling nearshore animals, such as Abalone, Clams, Sea Urchins, Crabs and Octopus. Sea Otters have the thickest fur in the animal kingdom, with nearly 1 million hairs per square inch.