Thursday, March 13, 2014
Charlie is a very special sea otter. He was the first otter in the world to give a voluntary blood sample. He participated in a landmark study on sea otter auditory abilities. And he and longtime female otter companion Brook were there in 1998 when the Aquarium of the Pacific first opened. On March 1, 2014, Charlie celebrated his seventeenth birthday.
According to the Aquarium of the Pacific’s resident sea otter authority, senior mammalogist Michele Sousa, a male southern sea otter’s life expectancy is roughly ten to twelve years. This makes Charlie way above average when it comes to otter longevity. Charlie’s seventeen otter years would be close to a centenarian in human years, or about 100 years old!
Charlie’s birthdate is recorded as March 1, 1997. Because Charlie was rescued as an orphaned animal, this is an approximate date. I first met him in 1998 during the Grand Opening Summer of the Aquarium. Although he and Brook looked very much alike in those early years, I could always tell him apart as he had a habit of sucking his paw and was also much more vocal than Brook. To this day he still sucks his paw and vocalizes like a pup when he wants attention. The years haven’t taken away Charlie’s youthful vigor—a testament to the wonderful veterinary care he’s had over the years. I really enjoy working with him during my Saturday volunteer shifts.
Assistant Curator Rob Mortensen was Charlie’s first trainer at the Aquarium. In fact, he cared for Charlie and Brook even before they came to Long Beach while they were temporarily housed at another facility. In the early 2000s Rob would also play a part in Charlie’s first claim to fame in the sea otter world. He, along with Michele Sousa, helped successfully train Charlie to voluntarily give a blood sample when asked. To this point in time, it was taken for granted in zoological circles that a temperamental animal like an otter would never sit still while a needle was inserted to draw blood. Charlie proved them wrong. As long as he got his coveted reward of clams, he would sit perfectly still during the blood-draw procedure.
Even in his senior years, Charlie made his contribution to sea otter-kind. When their otter, Odin, was found to be hearing impaired, Charlie was temporarily loaned to the Long Marine Lab at University of California, Santa Cruz, to participate in an important study on sea otter hearing thresholds. For more information about this research project check out the following talk given during the Aquarium of the Pacific lecture series last June. Exploring the Sensory Biology of Sea Otters Through Cooperative Research
Returning to the Aquarium last year, Charlie not only had to reacquaint himself with Brook, Maggie, and Ollie, but also he had to introduce himself to newcomers Betty and Chloe. Always the professional otter, Charlie integrated himself smoothly back into the exhibit as if he never left.
Happy Birthday, Charlie!
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