A recognized leader in animal care and conservation, Shedd Aquarium announced today it welcomed two female rescued southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) from Aquarium of the Pacific, a partner institution in Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Surrogacy Program. The two new additions, temporarily referred to as Otter 926 and Otter 929, will be raised at Shedd before returning to a partner institution in the surrogacy program when they are mature enough to be surrogate mothers to orphaned sea otter pups in the future. Shedd is the first inland aquarium to provide a temporary home for non-releasable female otters in support of Monterey Bay Aquarium’s innovative conservation program for this endangered species. The surrogacy program pairs rescued pups with non-releasable females to act as surrogate mothers, teaching pups the necessary skills to survive when they can be released to the wild.
“At Shedd, we’ve historically been a home for otters that could not return to the wild providing long-term care and connecting Chicagoans to this important keystone species,” said Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd Aquarium. “As the aquatic animal world continues to grapple with the effects of climate change and widespread biodiversity loss, this shift is one way we can support solutions to bolster endangered populations in the wild.”
These arrivals mark an evolution in Shedd’s sea otter program. While caretakers will continue to use their skills in times of urgent need for rehabilitation efforts with partners and providing lifelong care for rescued otters, they will now also help prepare these young female otters to serve as surrogate mothers in the future. Surrogates teach rescued, orphaned pups critical life skills like how to groom their dense fur to survive cold Pacific Ocean temperatures and how to dive to great lengths to forage for food.
“Once found from the Baja peninsula all the way to Japan, sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction for their fur and their path to recovery remains long and uncertain. As a keystone species in California’s coastal kelp and wetland ecosystems, they’re important for maintaining ocean health and can also help us fight the impacts of climate change," said Jess Fuiji, manager for the sea otter program at Monterey Bay Aquarium. “Aquariums play an important role in educating about the importance of sea otters and the threats they face in the wild. And the support from Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific and Shedd Aquarium will help expand the capacity of the surrogacy program and return more rescued pups back to their ocean home.”
For the time being, these two new additions are behind-the-scenes in Shedd’s Regenstein Foundation Otter Habitat. The animal care team will monitor the otters as they acclimate to their new surroundings, meet the other otters and are eventually introduced to the otter habitat.
Otter 926 was originally found stranded at Asilomar Beach on Jan. 27, 2022, at approximately 4 weeks old and Monterey Bay Aquarium responded to the call from the private citizen and no adult sea otters were found in the vicinity to attempt a reunite. She is now 9 months old, and is very independent, interacts with toys frequently and socializes with other otters well. Otter 929 was originally found stranded at Carmel Beach State Park on March 2, 2022, at approximately 6 weeks old, and Monterey Bay Aquarium took her in after a search for the pup’s mother was unsuccessful. She is currently nearly 9 months old and is a bit more reserved and cautious, but she enjoys interacting with other otters.
Both otters were given months of critical care by Aquarium of the Pacific staff who provided for the rescues around-the-clock, preparing diets and feeding them, observing the animals, monitoring milestones and more.
These two newest arrivals are the latest in a continued collaboration among Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) facilities in sea otter rescue, rehabilitation, release and rehoming efforts. All three current otters at Shedd Luna, Cooper and Watson, are rescues and were given a second chance at life.
Shedd will continue to provide updates on the otters’ development and when guests can expect to see them in the sea otter habitat in the Abbott Oceanarium. Shedd will also share any plans around naming the otters soon. Any guests that have booked sea otter encounters at Shedd should not be impacted by these two new arrivals. More information about sea otters at Shedd can be found on the aquarium’s website: https://www.sheddaquarium.org/animals/sea-otter.
VISUALS: For a behind-the-scenes look at the two new southern sea otters at Shedd, find high-resolution photos and video here: https://personal.filesanywhere.com/fs/v.aspx?v=8e6d67875f636dbb6ea7.
Video Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Gavin Wright and Sam Cejtin
Photo Credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez