Since the arrival of rescued sea otter pup Rialto we’ve had multiple confessions of a not-so-secret obsession with watching our baby otter cam. If you’ve been watching Rialto grow over the last little while, you’ve probably noticed a few changes in his daily routine. We had the chance to catch up with Kristi Heffron, Vancouver Aquarium senior marine mammal trainer, to get an update on Rialto’s growth and progress and to answer some of the questions we’ve been receiving from our faithful Rialto fans.
Why do we give him toys and ice?
Marine mammal trainers use toys and ice for enrichment purposes for all sea otters at the Aquarium — they are used as tools to mentally and physically stimulate and challenge them on a regular basis. The marine mammal care team has selected “toys” that are safe for an otter pup and keep Rialto active. Rialto seems to have taken a liking for the “kelp” stars which he pulls onto his stomach and wraps his little flippers around. If you’ve been watching the otter cam you’ve probably seen him rolling around in and playing with ice — much like the other otters, Rialto seems to enjoy ice activities.
Is his development on track?
Rialto is coming up on 3.5 months of age and now weighs about 8.6 kilos – he’s right on track with his development as a growing sea otter pup. The marine mammal trainers used to groom his fur much like his mother would in the wild, but he is now grooming it all on his own and his coat is looking healthy. The trainers have weaned him off of formula and his daily meal plan consists of six feeds of a mix of clams, squid and cod — he consumes about 25 per cent of his body weight per day.
How are his swimming skills?
Rialto now spends the majority (80-90 per cent) of his time during the day and night swimming in the larger habitat. Like full grown otters he uses his paws to comb and rake through his fur — rubbing, licking and blowing into it, creating a layer of air between his skin and fur to keep him warm. He is diving down all on his own and when he comes up water beads off of his thick fur, which indicates a healthy and well-insulated pup.
When Rialto is completely independent he will be ready to meet and swim with the other rescued sea otters at the Aquarium — Elfin, Katmai and Tanu. Stay tuned on our social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, for more updates on his health and growth from Vancouver Aquarium’s professional marine mammal care team.
With high energy needs and a varied diet, sea otters are the most expensive animals to care for at the Aquarium. Rialto is getting a steady diet of clam, squid and cod; the costs will only increase as he gets older. To help with his ongoing rehabilitation and care, visit support.vanaqua.org/Rialto.