Aquarium Welcomes Sea Otter Pup

May 26, 2012

A young rescued male southern sea otter pup (Enhydra lutris neresis) was introduced to his new home in the Sea Otter Exhibit at the Oregon Coast Aquarium today, under close supervision of Aquarium mammalogists. The pup, designated #564, was transported from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California February 22 and has been living in a separate holding pool since his arrival.  He was about 24 pounds when he arrived and now weighs 30 pounds at approximately 8 months old.

When the rescued animal arrived at the Monterey Bay Aquarium last October, it was treated for injuries believed to have been caused by a shark. Mammalogists theorize that its mother did not survive the shark attack and the pup was left stranded. It was estimated to be approximately ten weeks old at that time.

After a training period where he learned various behaviors, including how to accept food from keepers, he was introduced to a holding pool adjacent to the Sea Otter exhibit where the Aquarium’s other sea otters live. After brief supervised introductions to the Aquarium’s other three sea otters, allowing time for them to get to know each other, he joined the Aquarium Sea Otter Exhibit. 

The pup was found stranded at Morro Strand State Beach, California in October 2011, and was taken to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for medical treatment and rehabilitation. Unfortunately, due to its age, the animal was unsuitable for the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s surrogate mother program, which provides a companion or mentor to other stranded otters as part of their Sea Otter Research and Conservation program (SORAC). Companion animals help ensure that rescued animals learn essential otter skills like foraging, grooming, diving and cracking clams. In addition, the animal was treated for a parasitic infection which was successfully treated, but ultimately compromised its ability to survive in the wild. As a result, the pup was declared non-releasable by federal agencies including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which oversee the treatment, handling, transport and care of marine mammals.

"We’re very excited to have this new otter joining us here at the Aquarium,” said Ken Lytwyn, Aquarium Curator of Mammals. “He’s one that would not have made it out in the wild and I’d like to thank everyone who made his transport here possible.” Lytwyn said the marine mammal staff had a great time with his training and winning his confidence and trust. The animal was challenging to train at first because he had no human contact before he arrived at the Aquarium. “He has a very outgoing personality which we see coming out more every day. He enjoys interacting with the mammal staff and playing with his enrichment devices (toys) that we give him. We’re lucky to have him join our collection and look forward to him growing up here with the rest of our male sea otters. There should be some very exciting times ahead!” said Lytwyn.

The sea otter pup will join three other sea otters at the Aquarium, including Aialik, Judge and Mojo, all rescued animals that could not be released. The pup’s arrival is momentous for the Aquarium because sea otters are an endangered species and aquariums cannot take animals from the wild for their exhibits, unless it is a rescued animal that could not survive on its own and is non releasable.

Sea otters play a critical role in the marine ecosystem as a keystone species.  They promote a healthy kelp forest that, in turn, supports thousands of organisms. Sea otters are also an indicator or sentinel species.  They are dying of diseases that have land-based connections.  Since humans and sea otters eat many of the same seafood items, high rates of sea otter disease may be a warning for both human health and marine ecosystem health.