Orphaned Otters Find a Home
At California's Monterey Bay Aquarium, researchers are preparing rescued sea otters to return to their native kelp forests in the Pacific Ocean.
Meanwhile, at 33 pounds, Otter 540 remains a diminutive "teacup otter." It has since joined an exhibit of several other otters at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington. Exhibited otters play an important role, helping to educate the public about their role in ocean ecology. "Animals that get put into the aquarium setting are perfect for telling the public about their species," says Mike Harris, a staff environmental scientist and sea otter specialist for the California Department of Fish and Game, who initially picked up otters 545 and 540 from the beach and brought them to the aquarium.
SORAC's otter rehabilitation program requires a lot of resources, even though the number of released otters is fairly low and not all become reproductively successful. So far SORAC has rescued about 600 otters, 51 of which were sent to otter exhibits and other facilities. From 2005 to 2011, more than 60--including the orphaned pups--underwent rehabilitation and return to the wild. The successes are hard earned. "It's never simple," said Mayer. "Each individual case poses unique challenges."
*Update: Otter 545 died after its third release. Tests haven't yet returned, but researchers suspect that its death was probably related to not getting enough food and possibly parasites that it had picked up during its second release, among other factors.