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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

January 24, 2012 at 4:30 PM

It’s a girl! Baby otter doing great at Seattle Aquarium

This just in from the Seattle Aquarium, which had all kinds of news to report on the baby otter after HER first vet exam Tuesday. Yes, she’s a girl, as we reported yesterday, but here is the video of the exam that confirmed it:

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“Through positive reinforcement Aniak has been allowing us to weigh the pup and do some minimal handling the last few days. So this morning, our veterinarian, Lesanna, was able to do a physical examination on the pup poolside and confirmed it is indeed a girl. Her current weight as of (Tuesday) is 4.78 lbs (right on target!)” spokesman Tim Kuniholm writes.


Aniak last week, with her baby, born Jan. 14. The Seattle Aquarium’s vet has determined the baby is a girl. Photo courtesy Seattle Aquarium.

The fact the baby is female means we get to keep her. If the baby had been a male, he would probably need to be moved to another facility, to avoid conflict with Adaa, the other male at the Aquarium (and the baby’s father, presently on, shall we say, parental leave, at the Oregon Zoo.)

For some Seattle Times video posted Tuesday, click here.

Here’s a video from the Seattle Aquarium:

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No details yet on a name… but for now, here are some cool sea otter facts Kuniholm passed along, gathered by the Seattle Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Weight at Birth: 3-4 lbs

Weight gain: Approximately 1 percent a day

Nutrition: Pups nurse exclusively for approximately one month. A mother will often offer her pup food within days of birth even though the pup won’t show any interest in interacting with solid food until it’s a couple of weeks old. It will not usually be confirmed as actually eating solid food until it’s approximately 1 month old. Once eating solid food, the pup will eat more food daily and nursing will slowly decrease until the pup is weaned at approximately 6 months (some social nursing may continue past 6 months).

Natal pelage (fluffy pup fur): At approximately 6 weeks of age this fur will begin to shed and by the time the pup is 10 weeks old, its coat will look more like that of an adult.

Self Grooming: Grooming behavior isn’t usually observed until the pup is about a week old and then during the first month we will see licking, head shakes and grooming movements with forepaws but the grooming is very ineffective. During weeks 6- 10 we should see the pup actively grooming its tail and rear flippers, then work up to all body parts and by the time it is 3 months old it will be grooming efficiently except for the proficient forward body rolls we are used to seeing the adult sea otters execute while they are blowing air into their fur.

Hauling out on deck: We may see the pup attempting to haul out when it’s about a month old but it won’t be proficient at this until it’s closer to 2 months old.

Diving: Because the natal pelage keeps the pup so buoyant, no efficient diving can occur until the pup sheds some of this fluffy fur. We will see diving attempts at approximately 6 weeks old and we may see dives all the way to the bottom by 8 weeks.

Foraging: The pup will begin to collect some food off the bottom of the exhibit at 7-8 weeks old but it won’t be proficient at opening shellfish, biting through the shells, or pounding shells together on its chest until it’s closer to 3 months old.

Sea otter activity can vary from animal to animal and location to location depending on the abundance of food and the population density of the sea otters in any given area. Among wild populations observed in Washington State, otters spend more than 80 percent of their time resting, swimming and playing around.

Sea otters may rest/sleep on land or in the water. The northern species tends to rest on land more often than the southern. This seems to be due to the decreased human populations in the areas of northern otter distribution.

Commonly Asked Questions:

How long can they hold their breath?

Sea otters usually hold their breath for 30-90 seconds, but are capable of holding it up to five minutes if necessary.

How deep can they dive?

Sea otters have been recorded at depths of 330 ft. but rarely go deeper than 120 ft., the depth at which they find most of their food.

How much do they eat?

Wild adult otters eat about 25-35% of their body weight each day. They have a high metabolic rate that keeps them warm but also makes it necessary to eat large amounts of food each day. Seattle Aquarium otters generally eat about 18-22% of their body weight per day or about 10-15 lbs.

What do they eat?

Wild otters feed on bivalves, mollusks and invertebrates. We feed our otters fish (Pollock, capelin and herring), bivalves (mussels and clams), squid and crustaceans (Dungeness crab, shrimp and krill).

Can I feed one?

No. Only trained staff members are able to feed the otters. However, there are volunteer opportunities available for teens and adults who are interested in giving time to get more involved in the Seattle Aquarium. For more information, see the aquarium’s website.

Where do they live in the wild?

Sea otters used to be found all along the Pacific coast, from Northern Japan to Alaska to Baja California. Now they are primarily found along the coast from Alaska to Washington (the Northern sea otter) and California (the Californian or Southern sea otter). Otters can also be found in Russia on the Kuril and Commander Islands.

How do they keep warm?

Unlike other marine mammals, otters do not have a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm, instead relying on very dense fur for warmth and a lot of food to maintain a high metabolism. Otters spend a few hours a day grooming which is an important activity to maintaining a healthy, clean, water repellant coat for warmth. A layer of air is kept between the fur and skin that also allows them to keep warm and is replaced while grooming. When otters dive underwater air bubbles can be seen coming out of the fur. Otters also have natural oils in their fur that help to repel water. (See answer to “How much do they eat?”)

Where did you get your otters?

Aniak was born at the Seattle Aquarium to Lootas on September 6, 2002. Lootas was rescued and orphaned from Alaska when her mom was killed by a boat. Her birthdate was approximately May 1997. Adaa was found suffering from hypothermia on an airport runway in Alaska and was approximately born in June 1999. He is presently staying at the Oregon Zoo while our marine mammal exhibits are being rennovated. He will be returning sometime in Spring 2012.

Why do they roll when they eat?

Otters eat their food off their chests, just like you eat food off of a plate. When you are done eating you clean you plate, right? Similarly, otters “clean their plate” when they roll.

How long do they live?

In the wild, females tend to live longer than males. A female can live 15-20 years and males can live 10-15 years. Otters in zoos and aquariums tend to live longer than those in the wild. The Seattle Aquarium had a female otter that lived 26 years.

How fast can they swim?

An otter can swim about 0.5-1.5 mph at the water’s surface. They can reach speeds of 2-2.5 mph underwater with short bursts up to 5.6 mph.

Why are some lighter/darker than the others?

Most sea otters get lighter as they age, but it is an individual characteristic.

How big are they at birth?

Otter pups average 3-4 lb. and 15-24 inches when they are born. Sea otters give birth to only one pup at a time.

Do they make good pets?

No. Even though these animals seem cute and cuddly, we need to remember they are wild animals with all of their natural instincts. No amount of training can take the wild out of an animal, which would be one reason why it’s not a good idea to keep any wild animal as a pet. Another reason – It’s illegal!

For more information, find out about volunteer opportunities, and visiting hours, see the aquarium’s web site.



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