Sea otters are so adorable that the world cannot fit all of their cuteness in a single day, so they need to celebrate them for an entire week! And this year marks the 10th anniversary of this week that was started by Defenders of Wildlife to raise awareness about these adorable ocean critters.
Sea otters used to range in the hundred thousands, maybe even into the millions, north to south from Alaska all the way to the tip of California. Today there are three otter subspecies that live in Russia (~15,000), Alaska (~64,600 and ~77,300) and Southern California (~2,800). The reason for their sharp decline was mostly due to the fur trade. Sea otters have super dense and super soft fur (up to 1million hairs per square inch, that's more hair than you have on your entire body) making their coats highly sought after. After the fur trade was stopped, only 1-2,000 otters remained. The California population res resurrected from about 50 otters. Today their threats no longer include the fur trade, but instead include oil spills (natural and unnatural) is one of the deadliest threats to otters because they rely solely on their fur for insulation (no blubber here), water pollution (toxins in the water and that their food may absorb) and becoming ensnared in fishing nets.
Sea otters are known as keystone species, meaning without them, their ecosystem would be one sided and take a turn for the worse. The sea otters diet consists of urchins, clams, abalone, crabs and other shellfish. The sea otter's prey feed on the kelp forest, which provides food and protection for other species. Some scientists are also looking at the carbon absorption of kelp forests which may help stave off global warming. Some Noteable Sea Otters
Nyac and Milo-Vancouver Aquarium: These two otters are the Youtube sensation of otters. They were the pair featured holding paws while floating around together. Their video received millions of hits on the video website. Nyac was also one of the Exxon Valdez oil spill survivors. She is further recognized for having a pup as well, which was considered to be amazing due to the injuries she sustained during the spill. Sadly both otters have since passed away. Lymphocytic leukemia was found to be the source, which is rare for sea otters and not much is known about it affecting otters.
Olive the Oiled Otter-Wild southern sea otter: Olive was rescued off the coast of California after being discovered that she was covered in oil for a natural oil well off of the coast. She received her name from the olive oil that was used to help clean her fur. She went through a successful rehab and was released a while later where she was found feeding and socializing with other wild otters. During a recent checkup biologists found that she had put on a lot of weight and deemed that she was pregnant! Suspicious were confirmed when she was found floating around with a pup on her belly. She is the first known wild otter to give birth after recovering from an oil spill in California
Toola-Monterrey Bay Aquarium: This amazing otter had a year career at the aquarium for being a surrogate mother for orphaned otters. She took care of 13 orphans during her time at the aquarium of which 11 have been successful in the wild and at least 5 are still alive and 7 of the 11 pups have gone on to have pups of their own. She was found stranded, pregnant, and suffering from toxoplasmosis, a parasitic brain infection spread by cat feces. Her hope was grim when she was brought to the aquarium. She was put on medication to control her seizures. A little while later she gave birth to a stillborn pup. The aquarium had received a stranded pup about the same time they aquired Toola, so they thought they would pair them up and see what happened. To their amazement Toola took to the new pup quickly and wold go on to teach future pups how to be an otter. Toola has since passed away from old age, but she leaves behind a legacy.
Otter 501-Monterrey Bay Aquarium: Otter 501 is another case of a pup stranded off the coast of California. The aquarium took the otter in and at the time Toola became the otter's surrogate mother. A film crew has stepped in and has made a documentary about the little otter and his upbringing in hopes that she'll return to the wild.
Charlie- Aquarium of the Pacific: Charlie has been documented as the first sea otter to give a voluntary blood draw. Sea otters may be cute, but they're not always friendly and don't always like to be touched, or poked with needles. Thanks to his high motivation for food, his keepers were able to work with him to become comfortable enough to do vet work without having to restrain or sedate him, which is very stressful for animals.
Brook- Aquarium of the Pacific: Brook is a star. She's featured in a short clip produced by the aquarium. In the film she stars as 'Darth Otter.' Yes, this means she wields a light-saber. (Special effects of course). Keepers noticed that the way she stood on her hind paws, and held her front paws, it looked like she could hold a light saber. So another keeper was called in to play the part of a Jedi, and have a little light saber battle with the otter. Here's a link to the video [link]
Joy- Monterrey Bay Aquarium: I knew there was another otter mom at the aquarium. Joy the otter has had the pleasure of raising 16 otters, as well as raising 3 on exhibit. She also provided companionship for other female otters who were found injured. About 600 sea otters have been rescued, rehabilitated, returned to the wild and/or placed in accredited zoos & Aquariums. Joy has also since passed away due to old age.
Nellie, Abra and Homer- Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium: Nellie is a super talented otter. She can stack cups and solve puzzled! Otters are pretty intelligent critters, able to use tools in the wild to obtain prey, and are very tactile with their paws. Nellie was presented with three cups and has learned that if she stacks them correctly, she'll get a treat. Her buddy Abra helps her out by handing her cups. Homer, who is also one of the Exxon Valdez oil spill survivors, has also learned to stack them as well as stick them on her nose. The zoo has two younger otters, Kaladi and Libby.
Thelma-Oregon Zoo: Thelma was one of the first otters I ever met, along with her buddy Eddie. Both arrived at the zoo in 2000, and some time after their arrival, Thelma had a baby! The zoo was pretty confused, since Eddie and Thelma were a bit young to be having any pups. The pup grew up the be a healthy otter named Ozzie, and he now lives in Georgia with his buddy Gracie. But what makes Thelma amazing, is that she is the only otter alive swimming around with only one lung. Keepers noticed that she wasn't eating or diving very well, and discovered that she had a very tight belly. So keepers went to find what was wrong. They found that her chest had extra air in it, and needed to remove the problem (which was one of her lungs). Sea otter chest surgery had never been done before so this was brand new to everybody. Thanks to Thelma's calm and well behaved nature the surgery went very well, allowing x-rays, to be poked and prodded without attacking everybody. She has since recovered and is doing very well. Thelma has also been trained to poop on command, so keepers can collect fecal samples to track birth control medicine.
If you know any otters that are simply amazing, feel free to share them in the comments!
And now for the Feature!
And now I need to go write a 10 page story about mermaids...