A sea otter pup has a loud, piercing squeal that lets its mom relocate it while she’s on foraging dives. That lusty cry can also lead rescuers to stranded pups, which was what helped save a week-old southern sea otter on Sept. 30 and started the odyssey of Pup 681 from a California beach to Shedd Aquarium.
A resident taking a stroll along Coastways Beach, between San Mateo and Santa Cruz, heard the pup and called The Marine Mammal Center’s stranding network, which notified members of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program. The otter team rescues stranded sea otters all along the California coast, rehabilitating them and either releasing the animals or finding permanent homes for those that cannot go back to the wild. The aquarium team determined that this pup could not be retrieved that evening due to the remote location and impending nightfall. And there was the possibility that her mother was foraging and would come back for the pup.
The next morning, with the pup still on the beach, the chances mom was nearby were slim. California wildlife officials and Monterey Bay staffers quickly got to her and transported her to the aquarium. Weighing just over 2 pounds, the pup was tiny, even for a newborn, and one of the smallest rescues in the Sea Otter Program’s 30-plus years. Karl Mayer, the program’s animal care coordinator, gauged that she had been separated from her mom for at least 16 hours and was in dire need of food.
Admitted at Monterey Bay Aquarium as Pup 681—the ID number is a running tally of animals that have come through the otter program—she received intensive care for four weeks. As the pup stabilized, the aquarium contacted Shedd to see if we could provide her with a permanent home.
Soon Shedd marine mammal trainer Jason Jones and veterinarian Lisa Naples were at Monterey Bay Aquarium assisting with the pup’s treatment, and they accompanied her on her transport to Shedd on Oct. 28.
“Pup 681’s situation was urgent,” says Tim Binder, Shedd’s vice president of animal collections. “As an organization dedicated to marine mammal care and conservation, we were perfectly positioned to ensure this little pup had a home, providing the long-term care needed to survive.”
Shedd is one of only a handful of U.S. facilities with the available space, staff and expertise to care for infant sea otters. Our experience with at-risk pups goes back 25 years, to our participation in the massive rescue effort after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. The first otters in the Abbott Oceanarium were oil spill orphans, and nearly all of the successive sea otters arrived as rescued pups, including three you can see today: Kiana and Mari, both from Alaska’s waters, and Cayucos, who, like Pup 681, is from California’s threatened southern sea otter population.
A team of six to eight animal care experts working in three shifts tends Pup 681 in the specially equipped Regenstein Sea Otter Nursery behind the scenes. “It truly takes a village to rehabilitate a young sea otter,” says Binder. “Our animal care team is teaching the pup how to be an otter.”
“There are so many things she can’t do yet—feed herself, groom, even control her body temperature,” says Lisa Takaki, senior director of marine mammals. “That’s all up to mom, which is us.”
The pup’s life-saving high-pitched squeal—a forceful “meeeeh!”—lets the trainers know if she’s tired or hungry, or if she needs to be put in the water to poop.
“It’s like a signal to us, ‘I have a dirty diaper!’ ” Takaki says, laughing. “She’s a real baby.”
But that doesn’t mean Pup 681 isn’t developing fast. The trainers marvel at how quickly she has grown and gained skills in just the few days she’s been here. In addition to being bottle-fed a high-calorie seafood formula every three hours, the pup is starting to use her front paws to eat tiny bits of clam. She is playing with toys. And she’s discovered her rear flippers and started trying to groom them. Her attempts to dive, however, have been foiled by her fluffy, and very buoyant, pup fur.
You can play an important role in Pup 681’s around-the-clock care! When you give to Shedd’s annual fund you help support the expert care, special diet, the car wash strips she loves to wrap herself in and even the tons of towels needed to dry and groom her each day. Please give now!
And be sure to follow our regular updates on Shedd’s newest sea otter!
—Karen Furnweger, web editor