Vancouver, B.C. – Two rescued sea otter pups have been transferred to Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre to receive long-term care, following months of rehabilitation at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, AK. The male pup, now almost nine months old, was admitted on February 11, 2016 after being found by a member of the public in Kachemak Bay, AK. A female pup, approximately eight months old, was spotted by the U.S. Coast Guard and washed ashore on Homer Spit near Homer, AK. She was admitted on March 31, 2016.
The male pup was estimated to be a week old when found, and the female was estimated at 23 days old. They were placed in Alaska SeaLife Center’s I.Sea.U where they each received 24-hour care. The male required immediate weaning to solids and extensive coat maintenance. Dehydrated and requiring antibiotics when she arrived, the young female spent two weeks in intensive care.
Both pups were deemed non-releasable by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services as the pups were very young when they were rescued and didn’t have sufficient maternal care to learn the necessary survival skills. Vancouver Aquarium was asked to provide a long-term home for the pups so they may receive ongoing care for their needs. They arrived yesterday evening on a flight courtesy of London Air Services and were transferred to their new habitat under the careful supervision of Vancouver Aquarium’s curator of marine mammals Brian Sheehan and head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulena.
“After being found without their mothers and unable to care for themselves, these animals have been given a second chance at life,” said Sheehan. “We have been working closely with our partners at Alaska SeaLife Center who have helped to prepare the pups for a safe and healthy arrival to Vancouver Aquarium. The ongoing care for a sea otter takes a tremendous amount of resources, and that role will continue here as our marine mammal team helps them integrate into their new home. As the pups adapt to their habitat we look forward to introducing them to our other rescued sea otters later this fall.”
Now weighing in at a healthy 12 kilograms, the male sea otter pup has been maintaining a steady diet, eating about 2.5 kilograms daily of clams, capelin and squid. At 10.9 kilograms, the female otter eats about 2.0 kilograms of the same seafood mix.
The pups do not yet have names and the public is invited to join Vancouver Aquarium in selecting them. A voting page has been created and a short list of names selected: Mak, Fritz, Paxson, Tutka, Kunik and Kalluk. Entrants can vote for their favourite and check back regularly to see which two are in the lead. On November 17, the most popular male and the most popular female names will be announced and two participants will be randomly selected for an up-close and memorable visit with the pups.
Vancouver Aquarium is one of North America’s leading facilities in sea otter care. The rescued pups will join the Aquarium’s four other otters. Elfin, a 15-year-old male, Tanu, 12-year-old female and Katmai, a 4-year-old female, were also rescued in Alaska and rehabilitated at the Alaska SeaLife Center. Pup Rialto, who continues to be rehabilitated behind the scenes, was rescued from Rialto Beach in Washington on August 1, 2016, and cared for at the Seattle Aquarium before being transferred to Vancouver for long-term care on September 20, 2016.
Initially the two rescue pups from Alaska will be located together in the Finning Pool, one of the Aquarium’s two sea otter habitats, before being introduced through periodic interactions to the other sea otters, including Rialto.
Sea otters face a number of challenges in the wild. During its first six months a sea otter pup is highly dependent on its mother for food and, without her, is unable to survive. Much of the mother’s energy is dedicated to the pup and, as a result, her health may decline over the feeding period. Female sea otters give birth every year so if she determines that she has a better chance of rearing a pup the following year, due to environmental factors or availability of prey, then she may abandon the pup before it’s weaned. In adult life, sea otters continue to face numerous threats including disease, oil spills, predation, interactions with fisheries and overharvest.
Ninety per cent of the world’s sea otters live in Alaska’s coastal waters. Within the state of Alaska, the Southeast and Southcentral stocks are stable or are continuing to increase. The Southwestern stock is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) after experiencing a sharp population decline over the last two decades, attributed to an increase in predation from transient killer whales.
Visitors to Vancouver Aquarium can get to know the pups and hear more about their stories at regular Sea Otter Talks. A live webcam will also stream video of the otters as they explore their new habitat.
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a non-profit society dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. www.vanaqua.org
Alaska SeaLife Center
The Alaska SeaLife Center is a private non-profit research institution and visitor attraction which generates and shares scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems. The Alaska SeaLife Center is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. For additional information, visit www.alaskasealife.org.
Note to editors: Photos and video are available on request.