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ADVENTURES IN OTTER SPACE PART THREE

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Video | Volunteering | Mammals

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hugh

Having helped for the orphan sea otter Maggie since the night she arrived at the Aquarium of the Pacific, I learned a lot about her personality and a lot about sea otters in general.

While Maggie was comfortable with the people who were regularly watching over her, she was very nervous of new people who came into the holding pad area. This told me that the furball could recognize individuals. Even on days when it was raining and only the faces of the caretaker was visible underneath the raincoat she could tell who was new versus who was her regular babysitter. I also discovered that she had great eyesight. Maggie was always intrigued when the Goodyear blimp would fly over the outdoor holding pad. She would look up and stare at it in apparent wonderment. Then one day another blimp flew overhead and she let out a loud “WHOA!” (Her cry actually sounded like the little robot in the movie “WALL-E”). When I looked up to see why she sounded her alarm I noticed that this particular airship had a large dog displayed on its nose. Maggie was spooked by a dog logo on the blimp.

Eventually, just like a mother otter, we started to wean the furball off of resting on our legs in the water and having us groom her. She was getting bigger and she had to learn to do more on her own. However this didn’t stop her from wanting to be lying right next to me to groom herself whenever I sat on the island in the holding tank. I figured it gave her a sense of security to be close by while out of the water.

To get Maggie ready to be with the other sea otters of the Aquarium one of the exhibit otters was moved into her pad to socialize with her. This job first fell on the gentlest of the three adult otters at the Aquarium of the Pacific, Summer. When they hit it off fine eventually the other female otter, Brook, was also brought to the back holding tank to be introduced to the furball. They also hit it off fine although Brook did teach Maggie some sneaky otter tricks to play on her human caretakers.

One of the things that Maggie learned from Brook was how to hide pieces of shrimp and clam in the folds of skin around her armpits. Up to now she had always just cradled the pieces in her paws so you always knew how much food she had. What she learned from Brook by watching was how to use her armpits as pockets. Brook is a master of the sleight of hand when it comes to food. When given some clams she would sometimes turn in the water, place the piece of clam you just gave her in her armpits while face down where you couldn’t see her do it while making like she was eating it, and then float face up with a look that said, “I’ve finished those pieces, give me more”. If you weren’t careful Brook could set her own pace for the training session and also build up quite a cache of food that she could then enjoy at her leisure. For Maggie however one of the joys of discovering her armpits was that she could now hold her pieces of food securely when she rolled in the water to clean off the shrimp shells from her chest while at the same time be munching on a piece of clam or shrimp. I had to consciously slow my feed down with her after she learned this trick as sometimes I wouldn’t realize that even though she had empty paws, she still had quite a few pieces of food hidden on her body.

The introduction that had me most worried about the furball was when she would meet Charlie, our large adult male sea otter, for the first time. Male otters can at times be pretty rough with smaller females. On the day of the introduction I wasn’t quite expecting what I saw when they were both placed together. Although Charlie played rough at first with Maggie, the furball came right back at him and played rough right back. She could hold her own with the older male otter and then some! In fact the staff had to increase Charlie’s diet while he was in holding with Maggie because he was losing weight from of all the attention the furball was giving him. She constantly wanted to play. I don’t think Charlie was expecting such an energetic female.

Finally the day came when the furball was introduced to the Aquarium’s new and improved sea otter exhibit for the first time. I must admit that I felt like a proud parent the first time I watched her dive into the exhibit amongst all the kelp fronds and fish that decorated her new home. My fondest memory of that day was being outside the exhibit where guest usually stand and having the furball swim over to me and gaze at me through the glass with a happy look of recognition that only comes from an animal that you’ve really had a good relationship with. At that moment I knew that all the nights I sacrificed while caring for this orphan sea otter was worth it. Love that furball!

Below is a video of the Maggie growing up at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

ADVENTURES IN OTTER SPACE PART THREE
Top Image: The furball 2 weeks after she arrived at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Bottom Image: Maggie 3 months later. Notice how much she grew.  | Hugh Ryono
ADVENTURES IN OTTER SPACE PART THREE
Maggie in a quiet moment fast asleep.  | Hugh Ryono
ADVENTURES IN OTTER SPACE PART THREE
Me and the furball.
ADVENTURES IN OTTER SPACE PART THREE
The furball in her new home.  | Hugh Ryono

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Laura

Saturday, June 19, 2010 11:28 AM

You done good, Hugh.  She has a wonderful new home, and she looks very comfortable in it.  Congratulations on doing such a great job with her, and thank you for the sacrifices you made to help give this wonderful critter a good life!

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Hugh

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 09:44 PM

Thanks Laura for the kind words.

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Melissa

Thursday, August 05, 2010 07:29 PM

Oh my land, she is so cute!  You’ve obviously done a good job caring for her, she looks so happy!

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Hugh

Monday, August 23, 2010 12:19 PM

Thank you Melissa.

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