An otter pup rescued from a beach when just a week old is being trained to be an independent adult by officials at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. The female otter weighed just two pounds when she was found on the California coast. The helpless animal, 22.56 inches long, was brought to Monterey Bay Aquarium for medical care.
Pup 681 is now receiving care at the Abbott Oceanarium, managed by Shedd Aquarium. Marine conservationists at the facility are teaching the young mammal to care for itself in the wild, including lessons in feeding and grooming. She is also being shown when to climb into and out of water, in order to regulate body temperature.
The youthful otter is now five weeks old, and was sent to Chicago after her health was stabilized in California.
"This rescued animal provides an opportunity for us to learn more about the biological and behavioral attributes of this threatened species and to encourage people to preserve and protect them in the wild," Tim Binder, vice president of animal collections at Shedd, said.
A man walking on Coastways Beach, on the line between Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties, discovered the animal on September 30, after hearing her cry out.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officials, along with members of Monterey Bay's Sea Otter Program, found the marine mammal the next morning, and determined she had been orphaned. Veterinarians determined the young animal had been separated from her mother for at least 16 hours. This made quickly feeding the rescued creature vital to her survival.
Pup 681 is receiving round-the-clock care, from a staff numbering between six and eight staff members at all times.
"It truly takes a village to rehabilitate a young sea otter. Our animal care team is teaching the pup how to be an otter," Binder stated in a press release.
She has now learned to eat solid foods, including shrimp and clams, as well as drinking baby formula from a bottle.
Sea otters are the most massive members of the weasel family, and the second smallest of all marine mammals. The creatures were listed as an endangered species in 1977, but populations have been slow to recover, despite multiple conservation efforts. There are estimated to be roughly 2,900 of the animals left in the wild.
Almost 700 sea otters have been rescued, over the last 25 years, by the program at Monterey. The group there has saved the lives of both adult and baby otters, including those that cannot be returned to nature.