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Eight Hours in a Cargo Van with Four Penguins and an Otter

Claire A.'s avatar

Animal Updates | Birds | Mammals

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Now that the new June Keyes Penguin Habitat is open to the public, everyone is getting the first opportunity to see our Magellanic Penguins up close and enjoy their adorable antics. Many people know that four of our penguins came from Brazil, where they were stranded and starving outside their normal range. Our other penguins came from other institutions like the San Francisco Zoo.

Around the time we were coordinating the transport of some of the penguins from San Francisco, U.S. Fish and Wildlife notified us that Betty the sea otter pup was ready to be picked up in Monterey as well. Aquarium husbandry staff members all had the same idea…road trip!

I spoke with Assistant Curator Rob Mortensen, who made the trip with the Aquarium’s veterinarian Dr. Lance Adams, to learn more about driving a van full of penguins and a noisy baby otter from the Bay Area to Long Beach.

Claire: Have you participated in similar animal transport trips like this before?
Rob: Yes, several times. I’ve transported otters, belugas, sea lions, and seals.

What kind of vehicle did you take on the trip? Was the vehicle specially outfitted to transport marine animals?
For this transport, we had a large number of animal crates (and animals). Therefore, we needed a larger vehicle with some special features. One of the key features needed in any vehicle used for a transport like this is a walk-through so that you have visibility and access to the animal during the drive. We used a cargo van similar to the newer commercial delivery trucks. They are near ideal for this type of transport. Jump seats in the back would be the only upgrade I’d like, but they don’t come that way in rentals.

Was anyone else with you on the trip?
In the actual van, we had only Lance and me. However we did have a third person, Mammalogist Jimmy Chapman, in a separate chase vehicle. Jimmy had been up with the otter for several weeks prior to the transport, providing care to the baby otter.

How long did it take you to make the drive?
There were two legs to the trip, one leg from San Francisco to Monterey, which was two hours, then another from Monterey to the Aquarium of the Pacific. In total, the trip took about eight hours.

Did the staff at the other institutions have any tips on caring for the animals or anecdotes about their behavior?
As this is a fairly common transaction between our facilities, we have most of our information inked in the form of a transport plan form. We fill it out each time we conduct a transport and as part of the process, send staff up early to gain knowledge of the individual animal or animals.

What containers were the animals transported in?
All the animals were transported in individual plastic dog crates. In the case of the sea otter, an additional catch basin for melted ice, water, and waste matter was also used. Finally, we had a tarp to catch the rest of the water, and waste. These animals make for a potential messy transport.

Did you have to make many “pit stops” on the way back to check on the animals? Did anyone need any snacks?
We did make one stop at the halfway point to feed the otter (and ourselves), clean crates, and check on everyone. The otter was positioned so that we could offer her food throughout the trip.

Could the otter see or hear the penguins and vice versa?
If the otter had been quiet long enough, she might have been able to hear the penguins. The penguins certainly heard her during the entire trip. Sea otters make a lot of noise on transports. Hearing protection is recommended for the humans.

Any unusual or interesting incidents along the way?
Other than getting bit pretty good in the shoulder by a random penguin as we caught them in the dark hours of the morning, the trip was uneventful.

Once you arrived in Long Beach, where were the penguins and otter taken?
Holding pools had been prepared for the animals. The otter went to holding inside the Aquarium, and the penguins went to outdoor quarantine areas near where our other group of penguins were being held.

Did the animals seem tired after the long trip?
No, they were very active after the long ride and spent a fair amount of time grooming. We humans, however, were tired.

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