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Aquarium Announces Death of Sea Otter 'Mae'
The first of a new generation of exhibit otters, she also was first to raise a pup on exhibit
The Monterey Bay Aquarium regrets to announce the sudden death of Mae, an 11-year-old female sea otter who ushered in a new generation of residents in the aquarium’s popular two-story exhibit. Mae died on November 17, after the onset of a seizure disorder whose cause is still unknown.
Mae began experiencing seizures on November 14 that increased in frequency and did not respond to the intensive care provided by the aquarium’s sea otter and veterinary staff. The exact cause of death is unknown; necropsy results are pending.
Mae was rescued as a two-day-old pup near Santa Cruz in April 2001, and raised by the aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program team. She joined the sea otter exhibit in December 2001 after it became clear that she was not acquiring the skills she needed to survive in the wild.
Her name – that of a truck-stop waitress with a screeching voice in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – was chosen by the public in an online poll.
In 2010, she became the first surrogate mother otter to raise a pup on exhibit at the aquarium. The pup, Kit, is now living at SeaWorld San Diego. Mae served as a surrogate mother to five pups and as a companion animal to numerous others as part of the SORAC program.
When Mae became part of the exhibit, she joined 17-year-olds Goldie and Hailey, two of the aquarium’s four original sea otters. After their deaths, Mae’s exhibit-mates included first Rosa, who remains an exhibit animal, and later Joy and Toola, who died earlier this year of complications due to old age.
The sea otter exhibit is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in mid-March. Exhibit otters Rosa and Abby and are being housed behind the scenes.
Mae, nicknamed “Mayhem” by her caretakers, was a vocal and feisty animal who would make direct eye contact with and stick her tongue out at trainers when displeased, according to staff. But she was also an enthusiastic partner in training sessions, said Chris DeAngelo, associate curator of marine mammals.
“Mae definitely knew the most behaviors of any of our otters and was wonderful to teach new behaviors,” DeAngelo said. “She was one of the first animals that new trainers learned to work with because she was very consistent and good with dealing with ‘trainer errors.’ We’ll all miss her terribly.”
DeAngelo said sea otter staff also called Mae “the monkey” because she would hold objects like ice molds and toys with her tail, leaving her paws open to accept whatever came next. While none of the other adult otters displayed this behavior, it was picked up by some of the pups Mae raised.
Senior Sea Otter Aquarist Cecelia Azhderian said Mae was very playful.
“She loved big buckets,” Azhderian said. “She could hardly wait for them to be filled with water before she’d get inside, even though she didn’t like the water hose, which she’d attack when it came too close.”
The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans. To learn more, visit www.montereybayaquarium.org.