Shedd’s newest rescued sea otter pup has come a long way since she arrived at the aquarium in late January.

First off, in March she went from Pup 719, the ID given the stranded southern sea otter after she was rescued on California’s Carmel Beach, to Ellie, chosen by Shedd members in an online contest.

Ellie, shown above with her paws around adult female Mari, has more than doubled in weight at Shedd, to 20 pounds. (She’ll double her weight again by the time she’s fully grown.) Lana Vanagasem, manager of penguins, sea otters and dogs, reports that Ellie does not have a favorite item among the 5 pounds of seafood she receives each day. She gobbles capelin, squid, pollock, shrimp and clam with equal gusto. Krill pops (tiny shrimp frozen into ice cubes), too.

“And she has learned how to crack open a clam, a rite of passage for young sea otters,” says Lana. Ellie also plays with feeder balls, various-sized hollow spheres that can be stuffed with fish or other treats, retrievable through paw-sized holes. “She rolls the balls around in the water or shakes them on land to get the food to fall out,” the trainer notes.

The 7-month-old sea otter spends a lot of time grooming and sleeping on her “kelp” bed, a cozy tangle of thick felt car-wash strips often piled up on the ledge of her nursery pool and trailing into the water.

Lana ticks off more advances: “Ellie has learned to touch a paw to her ‘shape,’ a plastic red circle used to signal her to come to her training station. She is getting good at coming up on deck and swimming on cue. She will also pat a hand-held buoy target and follow it when we carry it around the perimeter of her pool, an important behavior when trainers want her to move from one habitat to another.”

The pup’s horizons have already expanded, from the nursery pool where she was first cared for and learned skills like diving and foraging, to other behind-the-scenes pools, to the sea otter exhibit. The trainers are slowly increasing the amount of time she spends in the exhibit, and she has even slept there overnight. “She’s definitely getting comfortable there,” Lana says. “Next she needs to get used to the sights and sounds of the public area during the day.”

In the last month, Ellie has also met two other Shedd sea otters. Soon after her arrival, she began vocalizing back and forth with the older otters in neighboring pools, and even got nose to nose with one on the other side of the window of her nursery area.

But now that she’s big enough, she can play with Mari, whom Lana describes as “a calm 13-year-old,” in a reserve pool. “Mari has been patient as the pup sniffs and grooms her,” Lana says. But almost-2-year-old Luna is a rough-and-tumble playmate. “They have done well together,” Lana says, “and because Luna is younger and more energetic, Ellie does more playing and wrestling with her than she does with Mari.

“We’ll introduce Ellie to the other adult female, Kiana, in coming weeks, but it will be several months before she meets our 80-pound male, Yaku.”

Ellie is the 10th stranded sea otter pup Shedd has provided a home to since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. A donation to Shedd’s annual fund helps keep the otters’ freezer stocked with the 25,000 pounds of restaurant-quality sustainable seafood they go through each year and supports our intensive rehabilitation efforts for motherless pups like Ellie and Luna, who cannot be released back into the wild.

Karen Furnweger, web editor