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Snow Enrichment for Rescued Otters at Shedd Aquarium

January 25, 2023

A fluffy otter pup rests in the arms of a Shedd staff member.

Shedd Aquarium’s rescued sea otters, Cooper and Watson, received special enrichment when animal care experts brought fresh snow into their habitat. Enrichment activity, any type of play or stimulation that encourages physical and mental exercise, is critical to excellent animal care.

It is also important to keep the enrichment varied and fun, so adding a new element like snow intrigues and satisfies these naturally curious animals. With the densest fur in the animal kingdom, the otters took no time investigating and sliding into the snow.  

Throughout the year, Shedd’s animal care specialists will use plastic cutting boards, carwash strips, ice cubes, and hollow balls stuffed with their favorite sustainable fish as other means of enrichment.

Background: Cooper and Watson, southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis), are both rescues that were deemed non-releasable by wildlife officials after being found stranded as pups in California. The pups arrived together at Shedd in July 2019, and are still closely bonded today. Shedd Aquarium is one of only a few U.S. institutions experienced in nurturing and rehabilitating stranded sea otter pups.  

The two can be identified based on the coloring of their faces; the fur on Cooper’s face is much lighter than Watson’s.

PHOTOS/VIDEO: High-resolution video of the sea otter’s snow enrichment session can be viewed here:

Video credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Sarah Supol