Sea otters eat a lot of food. A lot.

These smallest and furriest of marine mammals are also the only ones without a nice thick layer of insulating blubber between them and hypothermia-inducing Pacific waters. So their metabolisms are like blast furnaces that have to be stoked full tilt to maintain the “warm” in warm-blooded.

Shedd’s five sea otters gobble 25,000 pounds—that’s 12½ tons—of restaurant-quality sustainable seafood every year, including 10,000 pounds of sustainably farmed shrimp. That comes out to a food budget of $20,000—for each otter. The whole bill is more than it costs to feed the belugas, dolphins and sea lions combined.

But when you’re watching Yaku, Kiana, Mari, or Cayucos devouring a nutritious treat in the water or remembering how, at 5 weeks old, tiny Luna had to be bottle-fed seafood formula every three hours, we bet you’ll agree that they’re worth every penny.

That’s why this #GivingTuesday, Dec. 1, #YouOtterGive because we’re calling in reinforcements to help us continue to provide our sea otters with the truckloads of top-quality food that they need.

Haven’t heard of #GivingTuesday? It’s an international day of philanthropy—giving back. Carried out primarily online and through social media channels—hence the hashtag—#GivingTuesday kicks off the year-end charitable season. When not-for-profits, civic organizations, individuals, families and businesses partner around the world on #GivingTuesday, the collective generosity is a force for real change.

Every day at Shedd, each otter eats 20 percent to 25 percent of his or her weight in fish, clams, shrimp and other seafood. Growing pups consume up to one-third of their weight in high-fat, high-protein food daily!

Some of their meals also double as toys. The trainers have as much fun making fish-filled ice cakes topped with clam frosting as the otters do demolishing them—an activity not too different from their natural behavior of smashing shellfish.

If you peeked into the Abbott Oceanarium kitchen any day at 5 a.m., you’d see staff members, volunteers and interns preparing the meals for all the marine mammals and birds, a process that takes about six hours. Before each piece of seafood is weighed for a specific animal’s food bucket, it’s visually inspected to make sure it’s in perfect condition.

But our examination of the food we give the animals goes even deeper. We pay close attention to the health of the stocks of each type of wild-caught fish we purchase and the sustainability practices of the sources for farmed fish and shrimp. So the food is not only good for the otters, it’s good for the oceans too.

It costs extra to be this conscientious about what we feed our animals. But we look at it as an investment in the health of our sea otters and the welfare of their counterparts in the wild. Your involvement in the #GivingTuesday global celebration really will go a long way, so click here if you would like to support Shedd and all our residents. #YouOtterGive!

Karen Furnweger, web editor