“Spitfire” is the way one trainer describes Shedd’s newest addition, Pup 719. The 10-week-old southern sea otter was rescued by Monterey Bay Aquarium the first week in January. Shedd trainer Mike Pratt flew to California to assist with the female pup’s care and, with the go-ahead from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has jurisdiction over these threatened marine mammals, he and Shedd veterinarian Dr. Caryn Poll escorted the pup on the flight back to Chicago and her permanent home here on Jan. 27.
Shedd’s friends will remember how tiny and fragile another rescued southern sea otter, Luna, was when she arrived at Shedd in 2014. Not so Pup 719. While Luna was only 5 days old when she was found, the sea otter experts at Monterey Bay Aquarium, who pulled Pup 719 from crashing waves on a Carmel beach on Jan. 6, gauged that she was about 4 weeks old based on her size, teeth and behavior. In addition to being bigger and heavier, she’d had the benefit of a month in mom’s tutelage and was already learning to groom herself when, rescuers speculate, the two were separated during a storm. Healthy, alert and feisty, she has required less hands-on attention than a newborn.
Even so, Pup 719, now weighing 11 pounds, receives around-the-clock care from her Shedd surrogate moms, a rotating team of six to eight animal care experts. But she’s ready for more advanced lessons in the skills every sea otter needs.
She learned to take formula from a bottle in the Sea Otter Program at Monterey Bay Aquarium and had graduated to eating chopped solid food, including squid and deshelled clam, shrimp and mussel, by the time she arrived at Shedd. Still to come is figuring out how to crack open shellfish.
Other milestones in the pup’s development include easily getting in and out of her pup pool in the behind-the-scenes Regenstein Sea Otter Nursery and doing a more thorough job of grooming her fur, although our trainers still help her finish the job by toweling the hard-to-reach places.
Despite her good health and normal progress, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that Pup 719 would not be able to go back to the ocean. Sea otter pups stay with their mothers for up to nine months, learning everything they need to know to survive in the wild, and that time was cut very short for this pup.
“There are limited options for stranded sea otter pups,” said Tim Binder, Shedd’s executive vice president of animal care. “In extraordinarily rare cases, they can be reunited with their mothers in the wild. Monterey Bay Aquarium’s pioneering Sea Otter Program enlists adult female exhibit otters as surrogate mothers to raise the pups for release back into the wild. When surrogate moms aren’t available, every effort is made to place pups in one of a handful of accredited U.S. aquariums and zoos with the facilities and staff expertise to care for these high-maintenance pups.” He added that when none of those options are available, the pups have to be humanely euthanized. “But Shedd was eager and ready to welcome Pup 719.”
All but one of Shedd’s five sea otters have been rescues, and Pup 719 is the third southern sea otter that came through Monterey Bay Aquarium’s program. “The rescue and continued care of Pup 719 was a team effort and a testament to both aquariums’ commitment to the rescue and rehabilitation of animals,” Binder said.
Learn more about Pup 719 now, and watch for upcoming blogs as well as social media updates at #Pup719. Want to do more? You can support rescue and rehabilitation efforts like this with a donation to Shedd to ensure that we’re always ready to give a sea otter pup a second chance. Or support our top-quality animal care by symbolically adopting an otter.
—Karen Furnweger, web editor