Inside an ADORABLE Sea Otter Adoption Program!

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Otters are cute, curious, playful, cute, intelligent,
fluffy, and did I mention cute? But they’re more than just adorable animals, otters are
the cornerstone of one very important ecosystem. Otters are gardeners of the kelp forest. Their
diet consists mainly of marine invertebrates like sea urchins and abalone, which feed on
kelp. Too many urchins means less kelp, and that kelp provides food and shelter for hundreds
of species. Otters were nearly hunted to extinction before
the 20th century, and the loss of kelp forests threatened Pacific coastal ecosystems from
Japan to Mexico. Thanks to decades of conservation work, otter populations once as low as 50
individuals have recovered into the thousands. Hannah, you have one of the coolest jobs at
the aquarium I think. I totally agree with you, I actually am a
sea otter aquarist, is my official title. But what that pretty much means is I take
care of anything to do with the sea otters at the aquarium. And they pay you to do that? I get an actual paycheck, I still can’t believe
it to be honest. If you ever need an assistant, this guy! Otters love to eat, consuming up to a quarter
of their body weight in seafood every day, because unlike other marine mammals, otters
don’t have blubber. They depend on their turbocharged metabolism to keep warm. So with our animals that are here in the exhibit,
we feed them at least five times a day, with added little snacks here and there. An otter
can actually cost up to $16,000 just for food, for one year, for one otter. They’re very
expensive to keep, actually. But we’re not allowed to give them shell on
exhibit, because they will go and use that natural behavior and go and pound it on the
window, so we’ll freeze some shrimp, which is one of their favorite foods, in ice. They’ll
go over to the window, they’ll pound it on the window in order to get that food out. They live in very very cold water, they don’t
have blubber like the seals and sea lions do, they actually have this very, very thick
coat. On certain parts of their body they can have
up to a million hairs per square inch. So that’s as much as we have on our entire
head, they’ll have in a square inch. You can imagine it actually does create a lot of insulation
for them. Do these otters live here permanently? Yeah, so the animals that are actually in
the exhibit right now will always stay with us in the exhibit setting.
They all came to us as pups, they got separated from mom somehow, they kind of didn’t have
another option. But they play a very important role. Right
now one of our exhibit animals is behind the scenes and she’s actually raising a pup right
now, to then be released. Historically, going back into the 80’s and
90’s we had a really difficult time successfully rehabilitating and releasing stranded orphan
sea otter pups. We were able to keep them alive but when we
released them they were too habituated to people, and the main reason was because we
were using humans as essentially the maternal role model for these pups.
In 2001, we began to experiment with the idea of actually instead of humans, using female
sea otters in that same role, as surrogates. These aren’t their pups, they didn’t give
birth to them, but they do adopt them as their own? Yeah, I mean this is really extraordinary.
Initially the female will grab the pup and put it on her chest and it may start towing
it around, that’ll progress into grooming the pup.
A critical behavior that we see frequently is food sharing, so while the female is foraging
she’ll come back up to the surface and actually pass food to the pup. What we’re doing is taking advantage of the
innate maternal behavior of our exhibit female sea otters. We have an orphaned sea otter
who needs to learn the life skills necessary to be a sea otter, and specifically we’re
looking for her teaching it how to groom properly, also how to pick up food, how to get access
to food inside of a hard shell, all those life skills that are necessary, and then go
out into the big blue and survive out there in the real world. We just looked at a really interesting animal,
what was happening back there in that room? That animal is 696, he came in as an orphaned
pup and as given to one of our exhibit females who raised it as a surrogate.
Today was a very stressful day for the little guy, it was weaning day, so we sedated him
so we could do a really thorough physical examination, make sure he’s as healthy as
he looks! 44.5, canine 6.8… 6.9. This is pretty cool. We look at the blood, we take a pretty robust
blood sample, we also pull a couple of whiskers to evaluate their stable isotopes.
We pull some fur, we may look at that for stress hormones down the road, and then a
very large sample that just goes into the library should there be a researcher in another
3, 5, 10 years who’s interested in sea otters in 2015 we’ve got some samples held back. This is the softest thing I’ve ever felt in
my life. You are adorable. This is one of the few exposed areas where
they’re not covered in this dense fur, and it’s just so warm, you can feel the heat coming
off of their feet. This is amazing! So, is that a healthy otter? It’s too early to tell, but I don’t see anything
to suggest otherwise. The guy that we were working on today ultimately
is gonna be released back to the wild. T he only time we’re handling the animals is
actually when we’re netting them and then separating mother and do very brief health
checks on the pup, so during that process we wear latex gloves, hoods and capes to mask
our human form and scent. So it’s really important that they don’t get
used to people because these are wild animals and when they get back out in the wild we
want them to stay that way. Exactly, we don’t want them to like us. We
don’t want them to associate food with us, there’s no advantage to liking people if you’re
out there in the wild as a sea otter. So this otter is on its way to learning how
to continue to be a wild animal and we hope one day get released back into the wild. Good
luck! 696’s journey is far from over and like otters
everywhere his future is still uncertain. I’ve learned their population won’t be saved
one fuzzy face at a time, but he knowledge gained by these hard-working scientists will
give an entire ecosystem a better tomorrow. I hope you’ve learned more about these otterly
adorable creatures. Stay curious!

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