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A tiny male sea otter pup — estimated to be just two to four weeks old — is now in 24-hour care at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, after concerned members of the public found it swimming alone in open water off northern Vancouver Island on Sunday. Although the pup appears healthy, he requires care night and day from the Rescue Centre team, just as he would from his mother. Staff and volunteers are spending shifts feeding, bathing and grooming the newborn pup, which has not yet been named.
“Sea otters have high energetic needs; after birth they spend about six months with mom, nursing, being groomed by her and learning to forage and be a sea otter, so this little guy is still a fully dependent pup. He would not survive on his own, and we’re providing him with the care he needs right now,” said Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, which is presented by Port Metro Vancouver.
According to the report provided to the Rescue Centre, boaters collected the sea otter pup after it approached and then followed their boat while vocalizing. There were no adult sea otters in sight. Once in Port Hardy, officers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) arranged for the transfer to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Although well intentioned, both DFO officials and Rescue Centre personnel say the distressed animal should have been reported first rather than taken from the ocean. “Once they’re removed from the wild it’s impossible to determine if the mother is alive and if they could have been reunited, or if bringing him in was the appropriate action,” said Akhurst.
Paul Cottrell, Marine Mammals Coordinator, Pacific Region, DFO, reminds the public that touching or capturing wild marine mammals is illegal. Decisions about the pup’s future will be continue to be made by DFO.
Once extinct from Canada, the sea otter (Enhydra lutris) has successfully been reintroduced to British Columbia, and mainly lives off Vancouver Island. Subsequent population growth and range expansion enabled the Government of Canada to change the listing of the species from Threatened to Special Concern in 2009, as recommended by COSEWIC. Major causes of death among sea otters are lack of food, predators and environmental contamination. A recent study — conducted by researchers from UC Santa Cruz, U.S. Geological Survey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and published in the Journal of Experimental Biology — found the energetic cost of rearing sea otter pups could also be leading to higher mortality rates in adult females, and more incidents of pup abandonment.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre — a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals — is the only one of its kind in Canada. Under authorization from DFO, the team rescues, rehabilitates and releases more than 100 animals each year; in 2016, they rescued more than 170 animals. For every patient, the goal is to treat, rehabilitate and return it to the wild as soon as possible. The veterinary team provides medical treatment to harbour seals, sea otters, sea lions, sea turtles, elephant seals, whales, dolphins, and porpoises.
This year’s rescue season is proving to be a busy one already. As well as the sea otter pup, the Rescue Centre has provided assistance and care to a California sea lion, a Steller sea lion pup, and 29 harbour seals. If you see a stranded marine mammal, do not approach it and keep pets away. Call the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre at 604.258.SEAL (7325) for immediate assistance.
The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-supporting, accredited institution and does not receive ongoing funds to provide around-the-clock care for its rescued and rehabilitated animals. To make a contribution for the care of this sea otter pup, please visit support.ocean.org/rescuedotter.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, presented by Port Metro Vancouver, is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals. The Rescue Centre rescues stranded marine mammals and rehabilitates them for release back into their natural habitat. Donate to the Rescue Centre at www.vanaqua.org/mmr