Glistening dark bodies roll in the water. Light-furred faces pop to the surface, then dive back in. And slinky forms trade places between pool and rocks.
For someone without a trained eye, the sea otters at Shedd Aquarium — Cooper, Watson, Suri, Willow, Luna and the newest arrival — look an awful lot alike. And they seldom stay still long enough for you to try to discern differences. Each has their own unique stories, physical characteristics and personalities that make them one-of-a-kind! To help you figure out who is who, here are each otter's key characteristics.
Pup EL2306 (Temporarily behind the scenes acclimating)
A male northern sea otter pup, temporarily referred to as PupEL2306, arrived at the aquarium on Nov. 29, 2023. He was found stranded in a remote Alaskan town with no mother in sight and another adult male sea otter was approaching aggressively. Alaska SeaLife Center’s Wildlife Response Program rescued him on Halloween night 2023 and cared for the malnourished and wounded pup for several weeks. Estimated to be only 3-4 weeks old when rescued, he was deemed non-releasable and Shedd stepped up to provide him with a home. He will remain temporarily behind the scenes for several months as he reaches developmental milestones and builds bonds with care staff and the other otters.
Cooper is one of two rescued southern sea otter pups that arrived at Shedd in July 2019. Cooper’s fur is starting to gray on his face and head, making him the second lightest-colored otter (he is not quite as gray as Luna!) He may be seen actively backflipping in his habitat or play-wrestling with Watson.
In May 2019, he was picked up off the California coast by a kayaker who heard the pup's calls, thought he was abandoned and removed him from the location. In all likelihood, the pup had probably been "parked" in kelp by mom so she could hunt.
The pup wound up with Monterey Bay Aquarium's sea otter rescue team, which returned to the site hoping to locate the mother. Because the rescuers failed to find any adult sea otters and the pup needed immediate nourishment, the decision was made to take him into human care, effectively eliminating the likelihood that the 2-week-old pup could ever be returned to the wild. While the kayaker's intentions were good, it is a reminder that the public should not intervene with wild animals, but instead call experts with their concerns.
Southern sea otter Watson was rescued two days after Cooper, and the two infants became fast companions at Monterey Bay Aquarium's sea otter nursery. You can tell them apart by their facial fur. Watson still has dark fur all over his face, head and body, but he is larger than Suri and Willow who share his dark coloring.
When rescuers discovered Watson, after hikers reported a stranding, the pup was hungry, wet and shivering from hypothermia. No adult otters were in the area, and the pup was in such rough shape that rescuers immediately took him to the aquarium for triage. Watson was tangled in seagrass and covered in sand, leading experts to believe he had been separated from his mother during a recent storm and tossed by waves onto the beach. Without a mother to teach him survival skills, he needed a permanent home. Monterey Bay Aquarium asked if Shedd could take both pups. Today, Cooper and Watson are still closely bonded and can be seen spending time together.
Suri is a dark-colored, smaller otter with eyes a little smaller than Willow’s. She is often seen interacting with her enrichment or possibly sleeping in some of the shadowed, smaller spaces in her habitat.
Suri was found stranded at Asilomar Beach in California on Jan. 27, 2022, at approximately 4 weeks old. Monterey Bay Aquarium took her in after no adult sea otters were found in the vicinity to reunite the pup. She is very independent, interacts with toys frequently and socializes with other otters well.
Willow's cheeks are slightly lighter brown, and her eyes are a little rounder than Suri’s. She is often seen foraging and diving, sometimes stopping by the windows to check out the guests.
Willow was found stranded at Carmel Beach State Park on March 2, 2022, at approximately 6 weeks old. Monterey Bay Aquarium also took her in after a search for the pup’s mother was unsuccessful. She is a bit more reserved and cautious than Suri, 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 animals have a unique role ahead of them: they have the potential to be surrogate mothers for future rescued, orphaned pups. When they are more mature, Suri and Willow will return to a partner institution in Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Surrogacy Program. There, they would raise pups and teach them critical life skills, like how to groom their dense fur to survive cold Pacific Ocean temperatures and how to dive great lengths to forage for food. If successful, the pups would then be released back into their natural habitat, an incredible effort for the conservation of the endangered species.
Luna has the lightest-colored fur of the group, with a silvery white face, head and chest. She may be seen holding an enrichment device on her belly as she swims or sleeps.
At just a few days old, Luna was one of the tiniest rescues taken in by Monterey Bay Aquarium's sea otter experts. On Sept. 30, 2014, rescuers were called after the 2-pound pup's high-pitched cries had been heard along a rocky stretch of California coast. After four weeks of intensive care, Luna, who could not be returned to the wild, was welcomed at Shedd. The tiny, photogenic ball of fluffy fur and her rescue story caught national attention, and Luna appeared on two lists of cutest animals in the world. More important, she became an ambassador for her species.
Although they used to be abundant, threatened southern sea otters are now only found in small populations along the California coast, where they are vulnerable to food limitation from human overfishing, warming ocean temperatures, severe weather and periodic climatic events, pollutants, diseases from land-based runoff, predation and human intrusions. The risk of a major oil spill also continues to pose a serious threat.
5 Reasons to Raise Your Awareness about Sea Otters
Sea otters face increasing threats from climate change, and they’re only an oil spill away from widescale disaster. As goes the health of this s...
Two Rescued Sea Otter Pups Find a Home at Shedd
Two orphaned southern sea otter pups that were rescued by Monterey Bay Aquarium bounded into Shedd’s sea otter nursery pool—and their caregivers...
Saving Sea Otters Through Surrogacy
There is lots to love about sea otters! While their brown furry bodies and tiny dexterous paws make us all squeal, they need more than our eyes ...