Sea Otter Pup Creates a Cute Fest at Oregon Coast Aquarium
(Newport, Oregon) – Last week saw the beginning of what can only be called a Cute Fest at Oregon Coast Aquarium as a young Northern sea otter joined the frolicking bunch in the otter exhibit tank. Mojo is the name of the new addition, having been rescued from a beach in Homer, Alaska with injuries that included a broken jaw and lacerations.
Photos Cindy Hanson, Oregon Coast Aquarium.
After a stint in the Alaska Sea Life Center and then in Oakland, California, the male sea otter was deemed unsuitable for release back into his native habitat. So on October 22 he was dropped off in Newport, and then last week released into the tank with the other otters to numerous “oo’s” and lots of “awww’s.”
Mojo took to an older tank mate pretty quickly, playing with him right off the bat. When they play, they roll around, groom each other, and nibble on each other.
Jim Burke, Aquarium Director of Animal Husbandry, said the introduction was a slow, careful process, with Mojo in quarantine for two weeks.
“The transition period allowed him to acclimate to his new home and it was interesting to observe,” Burke said. “The quarantine was followed by brief supervised introductions to our other three sea otters, allowing plenty of time for them to get to know each other and figure out how to cohabitate.”
Burke said the pup would not have survived on his own in the wild.
“I’d like to express gratitude to local pilot Steve Schuster for his generous offer to fly Mojo from Oakland in the middle of the night with nearly gale force winds,” Burke said. “Without him, the cost to bring Mojo to Newport would have been astronomical.”
A member of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game found the injured animal on a beach in Homer. At that time, the sea otter was estimated to be about six months old; too young to survive without its mother. When the sea otter was first found, an officer alerted the Alaska Sea Life Center where the animal was sent for rehabilitation. Mojo is now about eight months old.
Cindy Hanson, the public relations official with the aquarium, said sea otters reach sexual maturity at three to five years. They live about 10 to 20 years in the wild, with an average of 15. In captivity, they can live 15 to 20 years.
Northern sea otters are an endangered species. Because of this, the aquarium cannot grab one for their exhibits from the wild. The benefit in this situation is reciprocal, as Mojo could not survive on his own, and the aquarium now has a new critter for the public to enjoy.
Upon arrival the center in Alaska, Mojo was given a CT scan to look for head trauma. They believe his injuries happened by some sort of encounter with a boat. Healing took around two months.
As the animal healed, he became increasingly comfortable around the rehabilitation staff and interns that cared for him. Mammalogists report that Mojo is very curious, and easily learned simple behaviors quickly, such as “stationing.” This makes tasks such as weighing stress free.
The scientific name for the northern sea otter is Enhydra lutris lutris.
Mojo joins three other sea otters at the Aquarium, including Aialik, Judge and Hunter – all of which are rescued animals that could not be released.
“Mojo weighs 35 pounds and is approximately eight months old,” said Judy Tuttle, Aquarium Curator of Mammals. Tuttle said he is eating all the same food items that the other resident sea otters eat. “After two weeks, he was moved to the otter holding pool for training for introduction to our resident sea otters.”
The Northern sea otter plays an important role in the marine ecosystem by aiding a healthy kelp forest, which are important to thousands of watery organisms. They are also an indicator to the health of other species. Scientists are currently seeing many of them dying of diseases that come from land-based creatures. Since humans and sea otters eat many of the same seafood items, high rates of sea otter disease may be a warning for both human health and marine ecosystem health.
The Oregon Coast Aquarium is on Ferry Slip Road in South Beach, across the bay from Newport. www.aquarium.org or call (541) 867-FISH.
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