Follow along with Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Mariko Bushcamp and Aubrey Theiss, who recently traveled to the Alaska SeaLife Center to assist with the rehabilitation of an orphaned sea otter pup!
Sea otter pup care 101: the first two months
Odiak was found orphaned on March 18, 2017 at about three weeks of age and weighing nearly five pounds. He was named after a slough near the city of Cordova where he was found. Although he was otherwise healthy, he was deemed non-releasable because he would not have the opportunity to learn the life skills necessary to survive from his mother. He will receive 24-hour veterinary attention and care at the Alaska SeaLife Center until he is independent and ready to be transported to a zoo or aquarium.
Mariko and Aubrey helped with three different shifts around the clock: day shift (8am–4pm); evening shift (4pm–midnight), and an overnight shift (midnight–8am.) Odiak kept them busy, even during the night shift when there were feeds, grooming, toys to be made, and cleaning and laundry to be done.
Neonatal sea otter pups start out in a crib with mesh siding that allows for airflow to help maintain a dry coat. A water or air mattress is placed on the bottom of the crib to simulate a wave-like motion, mimicking the feeling of floating in the water without getting wet. Fans and flexible ice packs are used along the sides of the mattress to ensure that the pup doesn’t overheat in its dense fur coat. This coat must be groomed almost constantly with clean towels, combs and a blow dryer to keep fur quality waterproof and at its best. Sea otter pups are born with extremely buoyant fur that allows for floating high in the water if properly groomed.
Odiak could be fussy during the day but was much more willing to let Mariko groom him while he was sleeping at night. Every two hours he is offered a custom sea otter formula that consists of puppy milk replacement, an electrolyte solution and blended clam meat. As he became more mobile, he was given supervised opportunities to float in water and play with toys. Sea otters love to manipulate objects from a very early age!
At about one month old and seven pounds, Odiak started to learn how to swim and hold his breath in a small tub of water. Caretakers started allowing him to dunk his head in a few inches of shallow water to explore toys below the surface. His premolars had also erupted and he was slowly introduced to some solid food items such as clam and squid bits. Mariko often used his bottle to reward him for eating his squid and clam.
In the wild, a mother would be introducing her pup to the large diversity of food items that are available to eat. It is thought that wild sea otters only have a short window of opportunity to learn how to identify things in their environment to eat.
Looking for ways to help sea otters in the wild?
The rescue and rehabilitation of a stranded sea otter pup is no easy task. Due to the expertise of the incredible staff at the ASLC, the chances of survival of the pup Mariko and Aubrey cared for is very good. Not all are so lucky. It’s imperative that we all do what we can to keep sea otters and all marine life thriving in the wild. Believe it or not, the things we do at home, regardless of how far away we live from the sea, can affect the ocean and the animals that live in it.
You can help in the simplest of ways: reduce, reuse, recycle. Reduce the amount single-use plastic you purchase, and choose reusable bags and water bottles whenever you can. Take a good look at the amount of trash you send to the landfill and work to reduce it. Compost and recycle whatever you can.
You’ll be making a difference for the marine environment and marine mammals!