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At Long Beach Aquarium, Orphaned Sea Otter Pup Prepares to Go Wild

At Long Beach Aquarium, Orphaned Sea Otter Pup Prepares to Go Wild

The female pup, right, must learn foraging and grooming before it can be released. (Aquarium of the Pacific)

City News Service

City News Service

4/12/2024

Updated: 4/12/2024

An orphaned sea otter pup is settling into its new home at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach after being rescued off the coast of Santa Cruz County, officials announced.
Officials said Thursday the female pup will be the aquarium’s first “surrogate-raised'' otter for potential release back to the wild as part of a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Sea Otter Surrogacy Program.
The pup has been paired with an adult female that can teach it baby skills, such as foraging and grooming its thick fur, needed to survive in the wild.
“We are thrilled to be able to further help this threatened species recover by expanding our conservation programs to now help stranded sea pups get a second chance at returning to the wild,'' Brett Long, senior director of birds and mammals at the Aquarium of the Pacific, said in a statement.
The Aquarium of the Pacific has taken in rescued sea otters deemed non-releasable to the wild by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since it opened in 1998. The aquarium joined Monterey’s program in 2020, and helped build a “behind-the-scenes’' facility for surrogate mothers and orphaned pups.
The surrogacy area, part of the Molina Animal Care Center, can accommodate three to four rescued sea otter pups each year. The facility is kept away from the public to limit human interaction and increase the pups’ chances of survival in the wild.
The California Coastal Conservancy Sea Otter Recovery Grant Program supported the initial construction of the surrogacy facility. Videos of rescued pups and signs outside the facility inform visitors about the program and the significance of recovering southern sea otter populations.
“We’ve been working with our partners at the Aquarium of the Pacific for more than three years to reach this moment, and we’re excited they’re now ready to welcome orphaned pups for surrogacy,'' Jessica Fujii, manager of the Sea Otter Program at Monterey Bay Aquarium, said in a statement.
“Sea otters help maintain the health of kelp forests and wetlands on California’s coast. This milestone is advancing our work to help sea otters recover from being hunted to near extinction and help strengthen our coastal ecosystems.”
The Aquarium of the Pacific also has a public fundraising campaign to support its work with rescued sea otter pups.
Southern sea otters are marine mammals in the weasel family. They are currently found along the coast from Half Moon Bay just south of San Francisco to Point Conception in Santa Barbara County, a fraction of their historical range.
Sea otters play the role of ecosystem engineer for their ocean habitats, but they were hunted to near extinction in the early 1900s.
The aquarium's surrogacy area is kept away from the public to limit human interaction and increase the pup's chances of survival in the wild. (Aquarium of the Pacific)

The aquarium's surrogacy area is kept away from the public to limit human interaction and increase the pup's chances of survival in the wild. (Aquarium of the Pacific)

Now a protected species, California’s sea otters have grown from 50 in 1938 to nearly 3,000 today. Despite this progress, their population growth has stalled in recent years and they continue to face serious risks, including oil spills, pollution and climate change, according to the Aquarium of the Pacific.
The aquarium's sea otter surrogacy kiosk in April 2024. (Aquarium of the Pacific)

The aquarium's sea otter surrogacy kiosk in April 2024. (Aquarium of the Pacific)

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