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Volunteering | Mammals

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


It was the moment that I had been looking forward to for months. Little Orphan Ollie would finally meet the first sea otter that I’d ever help raise as a pup. The anticipation of the meeting stirred a bit of exultation and a little bit of anxiousness. What would happen when Ollie would finally meet the critter that I nicknamed the Furball?

Two years before Ollie came to the Aquarium of the Pacific another orphaned sea otter had found her way to Long Beach. The Furball would be the first baby otter that I would ever help raise. Too young to make it on her own in the wild but too old to be placed in a surrogate mother otter program she was in limbo with no where to go until the Aquarium gave her a home. Unlike Ollie, this baby otter didn’t receive a name until several months after she had arrived in Long Beach. That’s why I gave her the moniker of “The Furball” during her first week at the Aquarium. At the time she looked like a little puff ball of fur when dry and I needed something to call her other than the sterile sounding “Quarantine Otter”.

I’ll always be grateful to the senior staff at the Aquarium for giving me the opportunity to help raise this scamp of an otter. Back then I was the very first husbandry volunteer at the Aquarium to be given the responsibility of baby-sitting a young sea otter pup overnight. It was such an awesome experience that I kept a video, still image and written record of the Furball growing up. (Click here to see a video of our first week together.) I felt a special bond with this otter that has lasted to this day. As she grew up her name evolved from Maggie, to Little Maggie, to Gidget. An adult otter named Maggie came to the Aquarium when the Furball was still very young so the staff decided to rename the younger otter Gidget for training purposes. The older Maggie already knew her name so it was easier giving the Furball a new name. To me though she will always be the Furball.

Ollie on the other hand was still very young, perhaps days old when she was orphaned. She could not enter the surrogate program because there was no room for her. She was given a name shortly after she arrived at the Aquarium. She wasn’t as streetwise in an otter sort of way as the Furball was on arrival, having spent practically no time in the wild. She was then and still is bonded to people and always seems to be happy to be around the mammal staff.

Unlike the Furball who preferred sleeping right next to me during her first week at the Aquarium, Ollie liked to be right on top of my lap when she took a snooze. It was a special feeling to know that this little sea otter had so much trust in me that she felt safe in my lap. (Click here to see a video of Ollie getting comfy on my lap.) Because she was so interested in her human caretakers Ollie progressed much more rapidly than the Furball did when it came to learning the husbandry behaviors that would help the staff care for her in the future. Ollie is a bright little otter.

When the day arrived for the two to meet I was feeling a bit nervous. Would the Furball accept the playful roughhousing given by Ollie? Brook, the eldest sea otter in the exhibit, was the first of our exhibit otters to be introduced to Ollie. She was also the first to be pounced on by her. She had shown a great deal of patience dealing with the rascally nature of the young pup. Would the Furball show as much patience as the matronly Brook?

Well as it turned out the Furball didn’t react like a mother otter when she was pounced on by Ollie. Instead she acted more like a big sister and playfully pounced right back at the younger sea otter. Ollie loved it! The two otters were playing with each other. Ollie and the Furball had each found a playmate!

I must admit the picture that I took of the two of them together still gives me a warm feeling inside. Ollie and the Furball. My two special little otters together at last.

The Furball, aka Gidget, aka Little Maggie, aka Maggie, was the first baby sea otter I had ever helped raise. To this day I feel a special bond to this critter.  | Hugh Ryono
Ollie. Another sea otter that I feel a special bond to.  | Hugh Ryono

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