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Sea Otters Return to Delight Aquarium Visitors on Exhibit, Play Vital Roles Behind the Scenes in Recovery of Species
The playful antics of California sea otters have delighted more than 50 million visitors to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. But these active marine mammals are more than engaging ambassadors for a threatened species. They’re working moms who play a key role in sea otter recovery efforts.
They return to their two-story exhibit on March 23 in an upgraded home that also includes new interactive features where visitors can learn more about California’s sea otters and the aquarium’s pioneering efforts to bring them back from the brink of extinction.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, through its Sea Otter Research and Conservation program, is home to the only center that rescues and releases California sea otters. Since 1984, the aquarium team has responded to every sea otter that comes ashore in distress along the California coast – animals that wouldn’t survive without their help.
More than 600 ill, injured and orphaned sea otters have come through the program over the years. Until the nonprofit aquarium began caring for stranded sea otter pups, no one knew how to keep pups alive once they became separated from their mothers.
On exhibit, sea otters are captivating creatures whose story sparked a visiting legislator to author a bill that has enabled California taxpayers to make more than $1 million in voluntary contributions toward sea otter research programs.
Behind the scenes, the aquarium’s five resident sea otters and their predecessors have raised dozens of orphaned pups – pups that are back in the wild and having babies of their own.
The exhibit animals have also been companions for dozens of stranded pups that couldn’t be released. Those animals, too are contributing to sea otter awareness. Today, 32 rescued pups from Monterey are inspiring millions of people at a dozen top aquariums and zoos in North America: in Vancouver and Atlanta, New Orleans and New York, in Chicago and southern California.
At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, exhibit otters have helped researchers learn how much energy sea otters expend diving for their food, develop effective medical and surgical procedures, gather baseline data about otter growth and development, and document the ways in which sea otters show signs of exposure to environmental stressors.
Several with seizure disorders and other diseases contracted in the wild have contributed insights about ways in which human activities are affecting the otters’ comeback from the fur trade, which decimated sea otters in the 18th and 19th centuries.
“Our sea otter exhibit is an integral part of our entire Sea Otter Research and Conservation program,” said Andrew Johnson, manager of sea otter programs for the aquarium. “Every animal on exhibit is contributing to the recovery of California sea otters.”
These contributions are documented in new ways at the aquarium’s upgraded sea otter exhibit. The story is told in live narrations during feeding and training sessions at the two-story exhibit, and through nearby interactive displays. It’s also the focus of a new auditorium program, “Luna: A Sea Otter’s Story,” which follows a sea otter pup’s journey from rescue to release.
And visitors can check out wild otters in Monterey Bay off the aquarium’s back decks at a new Otter Spotter station. There, they can use binoculars, telescopes and a radio tracking device to find and watch sea otters being monitored by the aquarium’s field research team.
The aquarium’s five sea otters – Rosa, Abby, Kit, Gidget and Ivy – will rotate through the exhibit, charming visitors when they’re not taking on behind-the-scenes responsibilities as caregivers for stranded pups. From time to time, visitors may see one of the adults caring for a rescued pup on exhibit.
To learn more about the aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program, visit www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/sorac.aspx.
For details about the sea otter exhibit and to see the animals via a streaming webcam from the exhibit, visit www.montereybayaquarium.org/efc/otter.aspx?c=ln.
The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans.
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