CHICAGO – A recognized leader in animal care and rehabilitation, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium announced today that it has welcomed two orphaned southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) pups that were rescued by California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, the world’s foremost rescue, release, conservation research and advocacy organization dedicated to the recovery of the species. The pups, temporarily referred to as Pups 870 and 872, will remain behind the scenes in the Regenstein Sea Otter Nursery for a few months as they reach important development milestones and build bonds with the care staff and the other otters at Shedd before they are officially introduced to the otter habitat.
The otter pups arrived at Shedd on Monday, July 8 and have been thriving behind the scenes, receiving around the clock care from Shedd’s animal care and veterinarian teams. Both otter pups are male and only one week apart in age. Pup 872 is estimated to be 9 weeks old, weighing in at 13.4 pounds. Pup 870 is estimated to be 10 weeks old, weighing in at 17 pounds.
“While it’s never good news to hear that an animal has been orphaned or in need of rescue, Shedd Aquarium stands ready to step in to assist – whether that’s rehabilitating and releasing animals, in this case, providing a safe home for those that need it,” said Peggy Sloan, chief animal operations officer at Shedd Aquarium. “We are honored to work with our partners at Monterey Bay Aquarium to bring in these two pups and continue to excite and educate our guests about these unbelievable aquatic animals.”
The otters were both taken in by Monterey Bay Aquarium and deemed non-releasable by U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. This means, because they weren’t raised by their mothers and taught how to survive in the wild, they would not be successful if released into their natural habitat. Shedd offered to provide a home for the pups because Monterey Bay’s successful sea otter surrogacy program is currently at capacity with other pups in need.
“With decades of experience on the forefront of the sea otter recovery effort, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sea otter program has assisted in hundreds of rescues, rehabilitations and releases that have contributed to sea otter conservation and ecosystem restoration,” said Karl Mayer, sea otter field response coordinator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otter Program. “We are thankful for longstanding partnerships like the one with Shedd Aquarium, who can continue to provide exceptional care to the otters that come through our program and need a home but cannot survive on their own in the wild.”
The first of the two pups brought into Monterey Bay Aquarium was Pup 870, which was discovered stranded on May 18 near Stillwater Cove in Carmel Bay. While the pup was clinically healthy, attempts to locate the mother were unsuccessful, and staff did not want to risk leaving the pup vulnerable and alone.
The second pup, Pup 872, was brought in two days later, on May 20. Unlike the first of the pair, this pup was found distressed and vocalizing in high winds and heavy surf at Asilomar State Beach. The pup was shivering, hypothermic and its coat was filled with sand – suggesting it was tossed in the surf. The decision was made to immediately take in the pup for stabilization and no further attempts were made to locate a mother.
Caring for orphaned sea otter pups requires extensive care, involving everything from feeding and veterinary check-ups to grooming, playing and more. And only a handful of facilities in the United States have available space, staff and experience to provide that level of care. Currently, 11 institutions across North America, including Shedd, provide homes for 36 non-releasable southern sea otters. Shedd officials and animal care staff quickly accepted Monterey Bay Aquarium’s call to provide the stranded pups with a new home.
“These two pups kept us busy from the moment we arrived,” said Tracy Deakins, senior trainer at Shedd Aquarium who accompanied the otter pups on their trip to Chicago. “It was an incredibly rewarding experience to see all that Monterey Bay does for sea otters and to bring these two pups to their new home here at Shedd.”
As Pups 870 and 872 familiarize with their new surroundings, they’ll also continue to achieve many important milestones, which include eating solid foods such as shrimp and clams and building important otter skills like foraging for food, grooming on their own and socializing with the other otters and with Shedd’s animal care team.
“While everyone may not be able to go out and rescue or provide a home for a sea otter in need, we have to remember that the survival of a species like the southern sea otter is a group effort – it takes all of us,” said Sloan. “Southern sea otters would not be around today if it weren’t for dedicated individuals who passed critical legislation like the Endangered Species Act, providing the protections necessary for the populations to rebound. Our job is to facilitate a connection between the guests at the aquarium and nature to help the public see that we all have the ability to make a difference.”
These two pups are the latest success story in the continued partnership between Shedd and Monterey Bay. Some folks may remember when Shedd brought in Luna in 2014 or Ellie in 2016 – both otters that were rescued and brought in through Monterey’s sea otter program before arriving in Chicago.
Since 1984, Monterey Bay Aquarium has been studying and actively helping to recover the threatened southern sea otter, which was decimated by the fur trade for over a century. As part of this work, Monterey Bay Aquarium has long been the primary facility designated to receive stranded southern sea otter pups and adults, developing expertise, protocols and procedures to raise orphaned pups for return to the wild. The Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program works with wildlife rescue facilities and other aquariums, such as Shedd, to respond to every sea otter that comes ashore in distress along the California coast. To date, the program has taken in 876 sea otters, finding new homes for 78 of those animals that were deemed not to be good candidates for release back into the wild.
Shedd will continue to provide updates on the pups’ development over the subsequent months and when guests can expect to see them in the sea otter habitat. Shedd will also share any plans around naming the pups as they formalize. Any guests that have booked sea otter encounters at Shedd should not be impacted by these two new arrivals.
With a long history of involvement with marine wildlife rescue projects, Shedd Aquarium is one of the first institutions to conduct training with sea otters to further their survival and care. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Shedd participated in the wildlife recovery efforts and took in many orphaned pups. The aquarium is now recognized as an expert in rehabilitating sea otter pups. Nearly all the sea otters residing in the Regenstein Sea Otter Habitat at Shedd were rescued pups – one northern and three southern subspecies.
Shedd Aquarium is grateful to the Regenstein Foundation for its generous support for the rescue and rehabilitation of Shedd Aquarium’s newest sea otters. A longtime friend to the aquarium, the foundation has made significant contributions to these animals over many years, ensuring expert care in their home in the Regenstein Foundation Otter Habitat and Pup Nursery. Additional support for the rescue of these otters was generously provided by Lauran and Myrna Bromley.
About Sea Otters
The smallest marine mammal species, sea otters are members of the weasel or mustelid family. Adult females can weigh between 35 and 60 pounds; males reach up to 90 pounds. Instead of blubber to keep them warm, they have very thick hair that consists of two layers: an undercoat and longer guard hairs. The otter’s fur is important to their survival, so they spend up to four hours a day grooming. If they do not keep their coat immaculate, they risk getting cold and dying of hypothermia.
Pups stay with their mothers until they are up to eight months old. Otters do not mate for life but form a bond that lasts for three or four days. After mating, the male leaves the female and is not involved in raising the pup. Sea otters must eat at least 25 percent of their body weight each day to maintain a high metabolic rate, which keeps their internal body temperature at 100 degrees. They eat bottom-dwelling nearshore animals, such as abalone, clams, sea urchins, crabs and octopus. Sea otters have the thickest fur in the animal kingdom, with nearly 1 million hairs per square inch.
About Shedd Aquarium
The John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago sparks compassion, curiosity and conservation for the aquatic animal world. Home to 32,000 aquatic animals representing 1,500 species of fishes, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds and mammals from waters around the globe, Shedd is a recognized leader in animal care, conservation education and research. An accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and the first U.S. aquarium to be awarded the Humane Conservation™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals by American Humane, Shedd is also an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, and is supported by the people of Chicago, the State of Illinois and the Chicago Park District. www.sheddaquarium.org
The Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research at John G. Shedd Aquarium is committed to conserving species and ecosystems through research that advances understanding, informs policy and enhances livelihoods as responsible stewards of the animals in our care.