Meet the newest sea otter at the Detroit Zoo!

Authored by Dr. Ann Duncan, vice president of life sciences for the Detroit Zoological Society.

We are very excited to report that we recently brought a third rescued sea otter from the Aquarium of the Pacific to the Detroit Zoo — a young male currently named “927.” The DZS is currently hosting a donation-based naming contest to help us pick out a new name for the otter, which we will announce on World Otter Day! Voting closes at 5 p.m. May 26.

Click this link to vote between Finn, Eli, Kai, Misu and Hurely — but before you do, learn more about the newest addition and how he came to the Detroit Zoo. 

An unnamed rescued sea otter has moved to the Detroit Zoo. The DZS is hosting a donation-based contest to help give hime a new name.

At 3 weeks old, the otter was found stranded in Carmel-By-The-Sea, California. The rescue and rehabilitation team who worked with him could not find a receptive wild female to care for him, so the pup was transferred to an area aquarium. He was later deemed non-releasable by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. 927 is settling into his new surroundings at Detroit Zoo well and is getting along swimmingly with current sea otter residents Ollie and Monte.

A lot of preparation goes into ensuring the transport and acclimation of a new sea otter goes well. Long before we planned the move, we began working with the animal care staff at the Aquarium of the Pacific (AOP) to develop a plan and analyze every aspect of the move. For starters, we worked with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife permitting team to apply for a permit for 927 to be moved. As he is a marine mammal, several regulations are in place to ensure only zoos and aquariums with excellent facilities and expertise in sea otter care provide homes for sea otters. While waiting for the permit, AOP staff made sure 927 had an opportunity to interact with several different sea otters so that he could learn social skills and become accustomed to making new friends. The veterinary staff at AOP did two examinations and ran several laboratory tests to ensure 927 was healthy and free of any contagious diseases that could pass to other otters. This allowed us to shorten the quarantine period at the DZS so 927 could quickly access the large habitat at the Arctic Ring of Life and the otters already living there.  

927 traveled by plane from California to Michigan in a kennel similar to a large dog carrier.

There were also lots of preparations for the day of transport. As described in a previous blog, sea otters have many unique physiological adaptations that can make time spent out of their aquatic environment stressful, so transport must be done carefully. To ensure things went smoothly, I traveled to the AOP two days prior to accompany the sea otter and an AOP staff person during transport. The AOP team had prepared two large pieces of luggage containing medical supplies and medications. While we didn’t expect problems, it’s always good to be extra prepared. We also carried two large coolers filled with ice and a day-and-a-half’s supply of the otter’s normal diet.  

On the day of travel, we got an early start at the Aquarium. After loading the supplies into a van, 927 was coaxed into an airline kennel. The kennel had a plastic insert on the bottom, which allowed food and other waste to slide away from the otter’s haircoat. We planned the trip for a time of year when temperatures are cooler throughout the day and placed the kennel in a larger plastic tray so that we could provide lots of ice and water during transport. We traveled on Federal Express cargo airplanes from California to Michigan with a short layover in Memphis. As the attendants, we could pass through a small door to the cargo area whenever we wanted. We checked on him frequently and offered meals every two to three hours. As sea otters have a rapid metabolism, this is incredibly important.

927 was well cared for throughout his journey by DZS VP of Life Sciences Ann Duncan.

927 was an excellent traveler. He was curious about the sights and sounds around him but did not seem overly concerned or agitated. He gobbled up the shrimp, clam and squid we offered at every meal — and especially enjoyed chewing on cubed ice. He also seemed to really enjoy it when a sprayer was used to provide a stream of water for drinking and rinsing.  

Once we arrived at the Detroit Zoo, we opened the kennel door and released 927 directly into a clean quarantine pool adjacent to the exhibit. He immediately started investigating his new surroundings, eating his diet and playing with toys. We gave him a few days to acclimate to his new keepers and to observe Ollie and Monte through a mesh door before letting him out into the habitat. Since then, he has been playing with Monte, exploring his large habitat and playing with all his toys. 

Visit all three sea otters at the Arctic Ring of Life — and don’t forget to vote for 927’s new name!

927 now enjoys his new habitat and playing with Ollie and Monte. He will receive a new name on World Otter Day, May 31!

Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day!

This week, hundreds of millions of birds will leave their winter habitats from as far away as the Amazon rainforest and Andes mountain range on their annual journey to reach their summer breeding grounds across North America and right here in Detroit! Migratory bird species travel along ancestral routes defined by waterways and often travel under the starlight at night. Fluttering along geographic landmarks like the Mississippi River and the shores of the Great Lakes, birds as small as the ruby throated hummingbird head to their summer homes thousands of miles further north. 

Saturday, May 13 is World Migratory Bird Day, which amplifies the critical importance for birds to have access to water throughout their journey.  Waterways serve as sources for food and habitat during migration and year round.  At the Belle Isle Nature Center, birds are celebrated on this day — and every day — through education and conservation practices that promote their right to access food, water and habitat. 

As the month of April came to a close, a time when the frequency of bird migration really picks up in the Detroit area, the Belle Isle Nature Center hosted Michigan Public Radio’s live broadcast event “Bird Nerds Unite.” This event featured a panel of local experts who discussed all things birds: the birds who are migrating through now, those who reside in southeast Michigan all year and tips for noticing birds right near your home.

You can watch or listen to a recording of the presentation here.

Even the youngest among us can appreciate the birds in their neighborhood. Don’t just take our word for it — here’s what Marlin Franklin, Brightmoor community engagement manager with Brilliant Detroit, had this to say about the Belle Isle Nature Center’s after school program, Neighborhood Nature Explorers. 

“Contrary to popular belief, bird watching is not boring! It is amazing fun for kids and adults,” he says. “We celebrated bird day at the Brilliant Detroit Brightmoor site with Micah Blake-Smith from the Belle Isle Nature Center. We learned the proper way to use binoculars. We identified birds that live and forage for food in our neighborhood, and we made feeders for those birds that we hung in the trees. Our little people will grow up to be good stewards of the earth with classes like these.”

If you think that’s something, come experience the excitement that awaits from bird watching during sunset or with the use of audio ID technology at the Belle Isle Nature Center’s free programs.

Nature at Night

A flutter of green, a jolt of red, a fleck of gold – a pheasant ducks through the underbrush in a burst of color. Whether it is the visual rainbow of feathers or a symphony of a bird chorus saluting the setting sun, hikers and bird watchers can find themselves knee deep in renewed prairie while birding on Belle Isle. Our Nature at Night program gives participants an opportunity to discover spaces that burst with life as the sun goes down. Join us for our next free hike from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 18. Guests are welcome to bring binoculars or borrow a pair from the Nature Center.

Science Hikes

More of a morning bird than a night owl? There is also a daytime Science Hike planned for 2 to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 21. This “technologically enhanced” bird walk utilizes the Merlin Bird ID app. Participants will be provided with iPads and can use the app to help them identify birds from their song. A recent walk on the Nashua Canal Trail, a 1-mile accessible pathway through the heart of Belle Isle, revealed ruby-crowned kinglets, red headed woodpeckers, white-throated sparrows and one very impressive eagle’s nest.

As spring bird migration winds down in June, the community group Black to the Land Coalition will host their annual birding event at the Belle Isle Nature Center called Blacks, Browns and Birds from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 3. This allows for Black and Brown families to come together in green spaces, connect with the land through bird watching and enjoy other outdoor activities.

For more information about upcoming, free programs and events, visit our website. The Belle Isle Nature Center is open seven days a week, and we are happy to give tips on where to head for your own bird walk. Celebrate World Migratory Bird Day on Saturday, May 13 or any day of the year by noticing where you find nature in your neighborhood.

This entry was written by a gaggle of geese: Ryan, Luke, Courty, Micah and featuring Marlin Franklin of Brilliant Detroit