An aquarium in Chicago has welcomed with open arms its latest adorable addition: a five-week-old orphaned southern sea otter pup.
The female pup had a rough start to her life, to say the least. She was discovered, stranded and crying, by a citizen taking a stroll along Coastways Beach in California. Scientists were alerted, and eventually the distressed pup was transported to Monterey Bay Aquarium, which thankfully has a dedicated Sea Otter Program.
The young’un was estimated to be only one week old when she was rescued, and weighed a meager kilogram (2.2 pounds). According to Karl Mayer of the Sea Otter Program, because she had been separated from her mother for such a long time, it was crucial to her survival to get calories into her ASAP. Normally, pups stay with their mothers until they are up to 8 months old. Sea otters also need to consume at least 25% of their body weight each day to sustain their high metabolic rate and maintain their internal body temperature at 37.7oC (100oF).
After receiving round-the-clock care for four weeks, the pup, which is currently known as “Pup 681,” was transferred to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, where she is receiving continual TLC from a team of dedicated experts.
“Pup 681’s situation was urgent,” Shedd’s Tim Binder said in a statement. “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 world.”
Southern sea otters, which are found in Californian coastal waters, are listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, they were extensively hunted for the fur trade and faced extinction. Despite decades of federal and state protection, their numbers have failed to bounce back. Throughout the last year, annual surveys estimate that the southern sea otter population only increased from 2,939 to 2,944.
Although life wasn’t easy from the beginning, Pup 681 is coming along in leaps and bounds every day. She now weighs a healthy 2.7 kilograms (6 lbs), is beginning to eat solid foods like shrimp and clams and has even taken swimming classes. She will need to stay behind the scenes for a while in a sea otter nursery so that she can develop important behaviors such a grooming, foraging and feeding.
“It truly takes a village to rehabilitate a young sea otter,” said Binder. “Our animal care team is teaching the pup how to be an otter.”
Check out this adorable video of her first dip: