Thursday, November 20, 2008
The aquarium community is thrilled with news of a historic first for their Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. A stranded sea otter reared from pupdom by one of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s exhibit sea otters and released to the wild two years ago has given birth to a pup of her own—the first time a surrogate-reared SORAC animal has done so. The male pup was born in waters near Moss Landing sometime between July 21 and 28. He appears to be strong and healthy, and to be developing normally, according to SORAC Animal Care Coordinator Karl Mayer. Now almost four months old, the pup is foraging on its own, although he still solicits food from his mother, Mayer said. His surrogate-reared mother seems to be handling first-time motherhood very well, Mayer added. “She appears to be rearing her pup successfully, and that is very gratifying to all of us at the aquarium,” Mayer said. “The birth is significant because it supports our hypothesis that surrogate-reared pups can survive to adulthood and reproduce successfully.”
The new mother, known to aquarium staff only as “MBA 339,” was found stranded at Manresa State Beach in Santa Cruz County in October 2005 when she was about four weeks old. Initially, she was bottle-fed by SORAC staff and volunteers, who wear black nylon ponchos and a welder’s helmet to hide their human form and eliminate eye contact with pups in their care. The disguise is intended to keep pups from imprinting on humans. At 6 weeks old – when 339 began to eat solid food – caregivers introduced her to Joy, one of five female sea otters on exhibit at the aquarium. Joy served as her surrogate parent for four months. At weaning age, 339 was implanted with a radio transmitter to allow SORAC staff to keep track of her; on July 5, 2006, she was released to the wild.