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.
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.
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 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!