Thursday, June 03, 2010
During the orphan sea otter pup’s first fall at the Aquarium of the Pacific, I would spend 3 to 4 nights a week caring for her in addition to spending the day with her on my regular Saturday shift. Being a volunteer with a full time “regular” job this meant that sometimes after work I would head straight home to get a few hours of sleep and then drive the twenty miles down to the Aquarium from my home in Fullerton for the overnight otter sitting session. After my shift I would take a quick shower at the Aquarium and then change into my business clothes and head off to work at my office in Cypress. Another scenario was for me to head straight to the Aquarium after work, change to my Aquarium uniform and then have a vending machine dinner consisting of chips and days old sandwiches while watching Maggie the sea otter enjoy her select pieces of gourmet grade shrimp and clams.
Was it worth going through all this trouble just to help care for an orphan sea otter pup? You bet it was worth it! I had the pleasure of watching Maggie grow up and got to observe her personality as it evolved day by day. I also established a special relationship with her that continues to this day. I wasn’t the only one that so enthusiastically adopted the cute little furball as something special. Senior mammalogist Carolyn was Maggie’s main trainer and caretaker at the time. She fussed over her as if she were her own child. I got a lot of tips and insights about otter pups from her. I have to admit that I really cared about the little sea otter too. It was joked around the Aquarium that while Carolyn was Maggie’s adopted mom I, being one of her few male caretakers and spending so many nights with her, was the little furball’s daddy.
One of my duties during a shift was to clean the algae off the bottom of the tank with a scrubber. Maggie, being the curious and playful otter pup that she was, sometimes made this cleanup rather difficult as she considered the pole that the scrubber was attached to her personal swing set. She would grab onto the pole and go for a ride as the scrubber was pushed back and forth. Pushing a scrubber through the water is hard enough without having a rambunctious otter trying to straddle it! It looked cute but we had to eventually desensitize her to the scrubber so she would leave it alone while we were cleaning.
It was really neat to watch the furball’s personality evolve. While she started off as a shy clingy pup she soon became a curious, innovative, and bold otter. At the start of every shift we had to do a survey of the quarantine tank because Maggie had a habit of trying to unscrew the bolts that held the drain cover on. A couple of times she managed to take one completely off. I thought this was amazing that she could do this as it took using a wrench for me to do the same thing! The more otter savvy of the staff told me that taking things apart is what sea otters do. I also noticed that she continuously checked out every nook and cranny around her with her paws. This otter trait led to the discovery that otters are very good pickpockets. Most of the pictures and videos of Maggie that you see in the blog were taken by a waterproof, shock proof and, as I would soon discover, otter proof Olympus Stylus 1030 camera.
During my shifts with the furball I would keep my camera on a strap in a zippered hard case. Well not only did the curious little otter pup managed to unzip the zipper and pull the camera out of the case while I was sitting on the Island in the holding tank, she also did it without me knowing about it! My first indicator that I had been pick-pocketed was seeing the furball next to me with a camera on her chest! She fiddled with it for a bit but didn’t find the camera very interesting so she dropped it into the water. Somehow she managed to not only turn the camera on but also pressed the self timer button. The camera sank to the bottom of the tank with the lens facing up and soon after the flash went off. After I retrieved it I found that the camera was still in good shape and that on the memory card was a surreal picture of her on the surface taken from the bottom of the tank. I think Maggie is the only sea otter to have ever taken a self portrait of herself with a camera. After this incident I removed the zipper’s pull tab on the camera case so that she would not get the chance to shoot a sequel to her artful photograph.
When Maggie was introduced to mussels on the half shell to supplement her diet we discovered that the little furball also had a great sense of rhythm. She would hold the shells in her paws and bang them on the deck with a back beat style that reminded me of a drummer in a rock band. Check out the video of Maggie showing off her musical talents.
It was a joyful and exciting Fall for me watching over the little Furball.
Stay Tuned for Adventures in Otter Space Part Three coming up in two weeks.
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