Joy, 'Super Mom' Sea Otter, Dies
She raised a record number of stranded sea otter pups
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is deeply saddened to announce the death of Joy, its “Super Mom” who raised a record number of stranded sea otter pups, many of which were returned to the wild, where they are raising pups of their own.
Joy, who was 14 years old, was humanely euthanized on August 1 in the aquarium’s animal health lab, because of failing health as a result of the infirmities of age.
The precocious sea otter was a keystone of the surrogacy program of the aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. During her years at the aquarium, Joy raised 16 pups – more than any other surrogate mother in the aquarium’s history. She raised three of those pups on exhibit, helping to prepare them to for life at other U.S. aquariums. Joy did all this despite several medical setbacks during her years at the aquarium.
“She was a ‘super mom’ for us – easily the most prolific of all our surrogate female otters,” said Karl Mayer, animal care coordinator with the sea otter program.
His team also relied on Joy to serve as a companion to adult females they rescued because of illness or injuries. Several of those animals have also reproduced after being released, Mayer said.
Joy was a playful and attentive mother – and a grandmother by default, as most of the pups Joy raised were eventually returned to the wild as young adults, where some of the females have had pups of their own.
On exhibit, Joy was easy to identify with her blonde head, as well as her calm and maternal demeanor with other animals. Her favorite toy was a large red ball she would roll on top of and sink in the water to release tidbits of food hidden inside. She thoroughly enjoyed playing with other sea otters and instigated a lot of the roughhousing, said Chris DeAngelo, the aquarium’s associate curator of marine mammals.
“Joy was definitely the feistiest otter,” DeAngelo said. “She always let you know where she stood and was quick to let you know when you crossed a line.”
Joy would show her displeasure with her caretakers by screeching loudly if she thought they weren’t feeding her quickly enough, or if she otherwise didn’t like what they were doing.
“She would certainly respond with an attitude – a snort, hiss, snarl, or some very vigorous grooming,” said aquarium veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray. “From a medical perspective, she’s been a real fighter through some serious problems. She has shown a real cat-like tendency to survive, and must have had at least nine lives.”
Joy was found stranded on Twin Lakes Beach in Santa Cruz in August 1998 as a five-day-old pup. She was a relatively precocious animal, and released herself during the course of an ocean swim with an aquarium staff member in December 1998. (At the time, aquarium staff would swim with pups to teach them foraging skills and acclimate them to the ocean. That practice has been discontinued, in favor of female otters like Joy raising pups for release.)
Joy remained in the wild for nearly three years. Unfortunately, during that time, Joy interacted with kayakers and divers, which wasn't safe for them or for Joy, so she was brought back to the aquarium and became a permanent resident.
Joy was always willing to play with her exhibit mates as well as toys, which endeared her to aquarium guests. As with all exhibit animals raised at the aquarium, her name comes from John Steinbeck's writings – in her case, a character from In Dubious Battle.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program has been studying and trying to save the threatened southern sea otter since 1984 with the support of its research, exhibit and policy teams, and the backing of donors and members. To date, the aquarium has rescued nearly 600 ill and injured otters and returned many back to the wild. The surrogate program continues to raise and release stranded pups, and places non-releasable animals on exhibit in Monterey and at other accredited aquariums across North America.
The research team plays a key role in field studies of sea otters in California, Alaska and Russia. The aquarium also works on behalf of policies at the state and federal level that will advance the recovery of sea otter populations.
The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans.
EDITORS: Contact Public Relations for images and video footage of Joy