Photo by: Robin Riggs
The tiny otter arrived at the Aquarium on Friday, March 16, 2012. Aquarium staff members have been working around the clock to care for and feed her. “The baby otter has been gaining weight and is doing well. It is wonderful to be able to provide her with a home,” said Debbie Quihuis, Aquarium of the Pacific senior mammalogist. The otter is estimated to be nine to ten weeks old. She will remain behind the scenes until she is large enough to join the Aquarium’s other rescued otters on exhibit, which is expected to take several months. In the meantime, visitors can view the other rescued otters in their exhibit, which features conservation education games and presentations.
Interview with LBAOP Senior Mammalogist Debbie Quihuis
What are you feeding the baby sea otter right now?
Right now she eats Banzai Shrimp. We’re keeping her diet very basic. As any young animal, you want to keep it basic but as their digestive system matures, we are going to start adding other items. Another important item that is really good for sea otters is squid. And after they have a mature digestive system, the majority of the otter’s diet will be shrimp, clam, and squid. We also offer them other special treats, such as crab legs and mussels.
Does water quality affect the sea otters?
Oh most definitely. Out in the ocean that is one of the largest challenges to the otter habitat. The run-off from the land, as well as many pollutants that are going down our waterways, through our neighborhoods, and out into the ocean are most definitely affecting the otters. It is really providing a challenge for the sea otters off the coast of California.
What temperature do you keep the sea otters at?
We keep their water between 59 degrees and 60 degrees. Right now our baby sea otter is at 60 degrees.
What would you say is the baby sea otters’ favorite food so far?
She’s so young that some days it’s shrimp, she really loves her shrimp. She’s a little picky too; she wants her shells to be taken off her shrimp so of course we do that for her. But other days she really likes clams. So she goes back and forth, as any young pup should. They tend to like one thing over the other, but I think over time when she gets a little bit older she might prefer clams over shrimp.
Do you vitamin fortify her food in any way?
No we do not. We do offer vitamins when they get a little bit older and that’s something we have to train them to do. It’s actually a pretty creative system that we have. We make these clam smoothies and what we do is grind the vitamins and mix it into the clam “smoothie”. Then they’re trained to open their mouths and drink it through a syringe.
Are sea otters more like cats or dogs?
Oh, that a good question! Otters come from the weasel family; they evolved from land to water so they definitely come from the carnivore family. It’s hard to say either way since cats and dogs are domestic and sea otters are wild, but being from the weasel family they have a very high metabolism, they are very active, they move around quickly, and they are constantly on the move!
How endangered is the sea otter in Southern California and does the Aquarium of the Pacific have a breeding program?
No, the Aquarium of the Pacific does not have a breeding program. Fish and Wildlife prefer that we do not breed in an aquarium setting. The population off the coast of California is not considered endangered yet, but they are at a threatened level. This means the population is not growing at a steady rate, but rather it is holding the same rate. So for the population to be growing from where it is at currently, it needs to grow at a faster rate over time in order for the population to be out of the threatened level. It’s having a hard time with the pollution run off and the oil spills, as well as general privation going on off the coast of California right now.
What would you say is more of a threat to sea otters, Orcas or pollution?
I would say that pollution is more of a threat to sea otters. It also depends on specific areas though. There are different species of sea otters that are more exposed to the other marine mammal species in the area, like the Orca whales that are not along the coastline of California. Yes, there are transient Orca whales but they do not generally come very close to the shore where the sea otters live. The sea otters’ biggest privation threat, as far as the food chain goes, would be the sharks.
Is there anything you would like to add that you want people to know about the sea otter?
We would like to invite everyone to come down to the Aquarium of the Pacific to really take this time to learn about the sea otters. Off the coast of California, we believe that conservation and education is our biggest tool in order to educate everyone about pollution. We all need to take into consideration what we use in our neighborhoods and what we wash down the drains because it leads right out into the ocean and these sea otters are literally right off the coast. The first rains or the rains throughout the season washes all the pollutants down, which really affects the otters. So come to the Aquarium of the Pacific and learn about the conservation of sea otters and lets see if we can get the population growing in the future!