This story was originally published on May 31, 2017.
When animals are in urgent need, Shedd Aquarium responds. That’s why two members of our Animal Response Teamwere at the Alaska SeaLife Center, in Seward, recently, contributing to 24-hour care for a rescued sea otter pup.
The center contacted Shedd after it took in a 3-week-old northern sea otter pup that had been rescued on a Cordova beach, 130 miles east across Prince William Sound. The Alaska SeaLife Center, an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is the only permitted marine mammal wildlife response and rehabilitation organization in the state.
The male pup, which weighed less than 5 pounds and could not care for himself, was deemed nonreleasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has jurisdiction over this protected species.
Sea otter pups are born helpless and have few instincts for surviving in the cold North Pacific Ocean. They stay with their mothers for up to nine months to learn the skills they need, including grooming, swimming, diving and hunting. When pups must be rescued, that big job falls to human caregivers. Shedd, which has been rehabilitating and raising abandoned and orphaned sea otter pups since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, could provide the center with the extra hands and expertise to give the pup the around-the-clock care he needed immediately and get him started in Sea Otter Life Skills 101.
Shedd marine mammal trainers Gretchen Freimuth and Andrea Oake each put in several weeks in Seward working with the center’s staff veterinarian, Dr. Carrie Goertz. In addition to the personnel support, Goertz said, having members of Shedd’s Animal Response Team at the center “allows for an exchange of knowledge between our partners on how we can provide the best care.
“This little otter pup shows every indication of thriving under our care,” she added. Within two months of his rescue, the pup was up to 13 pounds, taking part in his grooming, learning to eat chunks of solid food and teething, making him very fond of crunchy, cooling disks of ice as well as sturdy dog chew toys.
Animal Response Team
The pup has everything he needs in Alaska SeaLife Center’s “I.Sea.U” intensive care area, where guests can watch rehabilitation in action. The otter pup is the second marine mammal to be admitted since early March.
“Our responders are watching this season carefully to see if the trend in strandings continues, resulting in year-round concern,” said Goertz. “It’s an issue that had been predominantly seasonal prior to 2015.”
“This little otter pup shows every indication of thriving under our care.”Dr. Carrie Goertz, staff veterinarian, Alaska SeaLife Center
Northern sea otters are found in the Aleutian Islands, southern Alaska, British Columbia and Washington state. Of the three populations in Alaska waters, two are stable or increasing. The group that ranges from Cook Inlet through the Aleutians, however, has been in decline for the last two decades.
Sea otters as a whole are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List while the combined northern populations have been evaluated as vulnerable to extinction, only a slightly less perilous designation. All sea otters face threats from overfishing, which disrupts the whole food web, oil spills, disease and predation.
Shedd is home to three northern sea otters, two of them rescues, and two rescued southern sea otters from California.
Shedd Aquarium’s Animal Response Team is supported by Dawn Dish Soap.
―Karen Furnweger, web editor
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