Sea otters are extremely cute animals – just look at those button noses and fluffy fur, and you are likely to fall in love.
Lauren Hartling, the Vancouver Aquarium’s interpretive specialist for marine mammals, certainly felt this way after meeting the Aquarium’s two sea otters a year ago when she first started working here.
She says of Elfin and Tanu, “They are not just cute. They are also very interesting animals and really deserve attention. The longer you watch them, the more you learn about them.”
While watching the endearing pair dive, roll and float on their backs, you may easily come to believe that sea otters are the most carefree animals in the world. But Lauren knows that sea otters in the ocean deal with many challenges like natural predators, including killer whales and sharks, and human-induced threats, such as pollution and oil spills.
In an effort to draw attention to these challenges, the Aquarium is celebrating Sea Otter Awareness Week from September 23-29.
In addition to interpretive talks and daily feeding sessions, the marine mammal trainers will engage Elfin and Tanu with enrichment items.
Lauren says, “An enrichment item stimulates natural behaviour or simply engages the animal. It could be anything from a piece of ice that has a smell, a colour or a piece of seafood frozen inside it, to an actual object like a piece of imitation kelp. At one point the trainers gave Tanu a Frisbee, which she held onto her belly while she slept.”
As cute as sea otters are, Lauren can’t stress enough the importance of their role in nature.
“Sea otters are a keystone species. That means if they vanish from the ecosystem, the whole system will collapse.”
All the more reason to join us next week at the Vancouver Aquarium.