Welcome river otter Ahanu!

Molalla has a roomie! We’re delighted to announce the arrival of Ahanu, an 8-year-old male North American river otter. Ahanu was born at the Oakland Zoo in California on February 14, 2011 and transferred to the Denver Zoo when he was 2 years old. His name means "he laughs" in the Native American Algonquian language.

North American river otters are managed under an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) species survival plan—through this program, animals are transferred to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums around the country to mimic species-specific social movements and enhance population sustainability and genetic diversity.

In zoos and aquariums and in the wild, male North American river otters live in a variety of social groups: with their litter mates, alone, with a small group of males in a bachelor group (like Ahanu and Molalla)—and some fortunate males get the opportunity to breed and temporarily live in family groups.


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We welcomed Ahanu to the Seattle Aquarium on February 5. He ate well within an hour of arriving—a great sign!—and then settled into a private area behind at the scenes to roll around and dig in some soil, just like he had at the Denver Zoo. The taste of his previous home was definitely a hit! He played happily for quite a while.

The next day, we introduced Ahanu to Molalla. As expected, we observed a variety of interesting behaviors, ranging from exploring to ignoring each other (and, frequently, sniffing around in the area where the other otter had just been) to brief bouts of dominance mounting and aggression, which is typical for male North American river otters.

The process of acclimating the two males to their shared “bachelor pad” continues. We’re providing as much physical space as possible to offer them multiple options as they get to know and become comfortable with each other—which means that sometimes both river otters are visible in the exhibit, sometimes just one of them, and sometimes neither of them. We’re continuing to see predictable male territoriality and intermittent moments of vocalizing, posturing and sometimes aggression, but the frequency, duration and intensity is declining.

Be sure to visit the river otter exhibit on your next Aquarium visit—if both “boys” are visible, it’s a great opportunity to get a peek into the kind of social interactions that occur between males in the wild!

Interested in learning more about river otters? Check out the fact sheet on our web site. And still don’t know the difference between river otters and sea otters? The fact sheet can help with that too!

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