ALL ISSUES     |     FALL 2017
Southern sea otter at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

What's New

Sea Otter News from Near and Far

Selka Is a Surrogate Mother

Surrogate pup, shark-bite survivor, research sea otter...and now, surrogate mother! Our newest exhibit sea otter is also our newest caregiver for stranded pups—and has successfully raised her first.

In April, we introduced Selka to an eight-week-old male pup (ID #774). Initially, she didn't show too much interest; the pup initiated most of the interactions.

But on their third day together, Selka started carrying and grooming the pup, and they both ate well. We left them together overnight, and a bond seemed well established by the following day.

Throughout their four months together, Selka displayed excellent maternal behavior, and the boisterous male pup thrived in her care. In late August we weaned 774 from Selka, who returned to the sea otter exhibit after a short rest. Now a juvenile, 774 is housed behind the scenes with other otters and should be released into the wild later this year.

Historical Records Bequeathed

A box of old paperwork might significantly contribute to the greater story of sea otter recovery along California's central coast.
In early May, the widow of renowned local sea otter expert Jud Vandevere donated to Hopkins Marine Station three musty boxes filled with yellowing files and aging note cards that Jud compiled during his years of field observations. Hopkins' head librarian and bibliographer, Dr. Amanda Whitmire, assessed the contents, then contacted the Aquarium’s director of science, Kyle Van Houtan, to team up on analyzing the data.
Kyle and Amanda discovered unpublished survey, necropsy and foraging data on wild sea otters dated from 1953 to 1980. One interesting discovery was a note about sea otters apparently eating ocean sunfish—something we'd never seen or heard of before.
We're working with Hopkins to preserve and curate the materials and their data.

Sea Otter Genome Completed

Colleagues from the Wayne Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, completed sequencing the first sea otter reference genome. The complete set of genes will provide an invaluable resource for all future genetic studies of the sea otter, including evolution, demographic history, health and recovery, and population monitoring.
The Wayne Lab's team gathered coding sequences from over 14,000 genes using blood samples from 144 sea otter individuals, 24 each from Kuril Islands, Bering Island, Medny Island, the Aleutian Islands, central Alaska and California—including from our own exhibit sea otter, Gidget.
The team also successfully extracted ancient DNA from 300- to 2,000-year-old sea otter bones unearthed from indigenous middens along the West Coast. By comparing the sea otter genome across millennia, the team will be able to reveal, among other things, the impact of the genetic bottleneck that occurred because of the fur trade in the 19th century, when the southern sea otter population was reduced to about 50 individuals.
We'll continue to collaborate with the Wayne Lab on this project to share how it can help us better understand sea otter evolution and physiology, with the goal of strengthening conservation research and policy for this species.

More What's New

Construction on the new Center for Ocean Education and Leadership building located on Cannery Row

Construction Begins on Our Center for Ocean Education and Leadership

We're excited to share hat we've raised over $60 million toward our $70 million goal to build our new Bechtel Family Center for Ocean Education and Leadership, and fund our innovative science education programs.

We're deeply grateful to everyone whose generous contributions are helping make this dream a reality—thank you! Now we can truly say we're building a future for the ocean by educating the next generation of ocean stewards.

Construction has begun and we're on track to welcome our first students in 2019. The four-story, 25,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art Center will be able to host thousands of students from kindergarten through high school in a variety of marine science and conservation programs—provided we raise the remaining funds to complete the project.

One such program is our successful Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit. We're always so inspired by the students' projects and their passion for ending this deadly blight.
For example, a class of fifth-grade students at Mount Madonna School in Watsonville was one that we've raised of 15 winners of the 2016 President's Environmental Youth Award. This national award recognizes outstanding environmental projects by students across the United States.
The Mount Madonna students created a public education campaign about the threatened Western snowy plover. Their yearlong project examined how plastic pollution and sand mining negatively impact these diminutive shorebirds.
The students worked with local scientists and environmental organizations to research threats to snowy plover habitat. They also created Shore Wars, a 30-minute educational film, to raise funds for organizations supporting conservation efforts for this shorebird. We screened the film at the Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit final symposium in May, as well as during our World Ocean Day celebration in 2016.

Paper straws provided in the Monterey Bay Aquarium Restaurant and Cafe

We Launch an Aquarium Conservation Partnership

Plastic pollution is a growing problem in the ocean, as well as in lakes and rivers. That's why we're among 19 top aquariums in the United States working to champion a new campaign that leads the way toward a world with less single-use plastic.

Through the Aquarium Conservation Partnership, we've joined forces with our colleagues—starting with a commitment to replace plastic straws and shopping bags with renewable and reusable substitutes.

In addition to changing business practices, the partners have launched a nationwide campaign to rally our collective 20 million visitors and drive a national shift toward innovative alternatives to single-use plastic.

"The public trusts aquariums to do what's right for the health of the ocean and for ocean wildlife," says Executive Director Julie Packard. "We're just beginning to understand the full impacts of ocean plastic pollution on ecosystems, marine life and human health. But we already know enough to say that now is the time to act."
We're well ahead of the curve in Monterey. Our retail and culinary partner, Service Systems Associates, has already eliminated plastic straws and all other single-use plastic from our cafe operations—including all the bottled beverages we sell. In our Gift & Bookstore locations we're working with vendors to reduce plastic packaging on items sold in our stores and shipped here for sale. SSA is bringing these innovations to its many other zoo and aquarium clients nationwide.
But there's more to be done. Worldwide, about 8.8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year—roughly a dump truck full of plastic every minute. In the United States alone, plastic waste averages more than 200 pounds per person each year. Nearly 700 species—including all sea turtles and more than half of the seabird and mammal species in the ocean—have ingested or been entangled in plastic debris.
Tackling the issue is a priority for us. We'll keep you updated on our progress. Visit to learn more.