While Shedd Aquarium’s guests and staff members celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week, a member of our Animal Response Team is in the field in Alaska helping a sea otter pup in urgent need.

Recently we received a call from our partners at the Alaska SeaLife Center, in Seward, requesting assistance in the around-the-clock care of a stranded 3-month-old northern sea otter. ASLC is the only permitted stranded marine mammal response facility in Alaska. Shedd is one of only a few U.S. aquariums and zoos with the expertise, based on nearly 30 years of experience, to care for these fragile pups.

The otter was estimated by ASLC’s staff veterinarians to be 2 months old when he was admitted to the center’s Wildlife Response and Rehabilitation Program on Sept. 7. He had been found alone on a beach in Kasilof, on the Kenai Peninsula. The pup was starving and dehydrated, and his insulating pup fur was in bad condition, leaving him vulnerable to life-threatening hypothermia.

At the center, he immediately received fluids, including nutrient-packed formula, soft towels to lie on and, as he stabilized, a name―Kasilof. Because the young pup lacks survival skills and needs long-term rehabilitation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that he cannot be released back into the wild.

Right now, trainer Maura Redding, one of Shedd’s sea otter experts, is in Seward helping with Kasilof’s intensive care, which includes bottle-feeding him every three hours, offering solid foods like bits of fish and clam, giving medications, cleaning his habitat, observing his behavior and grooming him to restore his fur.

Once the pup learns to groom himself, he’ll be moved to the center’s “ISeaU” area for continued care. Maura will be in Alaska for several weeks; then trainer and otter team manager Lana Vanagasem will take her place to continue Kasilof’s rehabilitation.

As the pup recovers, his care will include training to give him the grooming, swimming, diving, foraging and other essential skills that he would have learned from his mother during his first nine months.

Sea otters as a species are ranked as endangered on the IUCN Red List, the most comprehensive and reliable evaluation of the status of the world’s animal and plant populations. The northern subspecies, which includes three stocks in Alaska waters, are listed as threatened.

We couldn’t help but be struck by the coincidence that we joined this rescue effort during Sea Otter Awareness Week. The week is dedicated not only to celebrating the smallest—and arguably the cutest—marine mammals, but also to raising awareness about threats and challenges they face, including land-based diseases in runoff, increasing competition from the fishing industry for food and the ever-present possibility of a major oil spill.

You can support the work of our Animal Response Team with a donation to Shedd Aquarium. You can also help support the care of our five otters, and the ongoing studies that benefit them and their counterparts in the wild, through a symbolic adoption. Our Adopt-an-Otter program includes an otter plush toy, a photo of the otter you adopted, an adoption certificate and informative quarterly emails.

We’ll share updates about the young rescue at the Alaska SeaLife Center as we follow his progress.

―Karen Furnweger, web editor

Read more about sea otters:

Shedd Responders Help Alaska Sea Otter Pup

Sea Otter Who's Who

Activities pictured are authorized by USFWS, COA/MA 73418B.