Shedd’s success in raising the four Exxon Valdez oil spill pups impressed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service so much that a year after the spill, in 1990, the service called to see if the aquarium could take a month-old pup found stranded on a beach in Homer, Alaska. Wildlife officials speculated that the 6-pound otter had been separated from her mother during a storm.
Because the infant needed constant care, she was allowed to ride in the cockpit of the cargo jet, along with Shedd’s otter specialist and veterinarian, on the flight from Anchorage to Chicago. The otter was named Kachemak after the bay where she was found.
The Oceanarium was still almost a year away from completion, so a temporary nursery was built behind a gallery, complete with air-conditioning to simulate the Pacific Northwest climate and a small water bed that mimicked the gentle wave action a pup would experience while resting on her mother’s stomach in the sea. A small wading pool completed the furnishings, providing the baby otter with a safe place in which to learn to float and swim.
Kachemak’s high-maintenance care revolved around a four-hour cycle of sleep, wake up, poop, eat, poop, get groomed, play and then go back to sleep. She had to consume one-third of her body weight in food every day. She was bottle-fed a calorie-rich puree of clam meat, squid, half-and-half, dextrose solution, vitamins and a calcium supplement. Then she got a plate of bits of shrimp, pollock and clams. Afterward, she was bathed and carefully towel-dried, and her fur was laboriously groomed with a brush and hair dryer to maintain its insulation and waterproofing. As she got older, Kachemak learned to squeeze the water out of her fur with her mittlike paws, then fluff it dry herself.
For those of us who remember a tiny fluffball with ear-piercing vocalizations, it’s hard to believe that Kachemak is now a senior citizen. “Kachemak is still doing great,” says Indya Watts, a marine mammal trainer and lead of the otter team. “Her sessions are going well, and she’s healthy.” Kachemak frequently hangs out with the other older female otter, Kenai, 20. “She likes to know where Kenai is, and she’ll check in on her every now and then,” Watts says. The two elders sometimes share the new 1,000-gallon pup pool, where trainers can give them a break from the high-energy antics of the younger otters.
Posted by Karen Furnweger, web editor