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Aquarium’s Sea Otter Charlie to Participate in Auditory Study

Aquarium’s Sea Otter Charlie to Participate in Auditory Study
Robin Riggs

Animals

March 29, 2011

In April one of the Aquarium of the Pacific’s five southern sea otters will travel north to Santa Cruz, California to participate in an auditory study. This study is being conducted by researchers at the Pinniped Cognition & Sensory Systems Laboratory based at the Long Marine Lab at the University of California, Santa Cruz. While Charlie the sea otter is in Santa Cruz, the lab’s otter Odin will take Charlie’s place in Long Beach. After a brief quarantine period he will join the other otters in the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Habitat.

Odin was slated to participate in the study, which will examine underwater hearing sensitivity in sea otters. Although he is in good health and is well trained, Odin has some hearing loss. Thus, the researchers were looking to involve another trained sea otter with better hearing. The Long Marine Lab contacted the Aquarium about the possibility of Charlie’s participation in the study. Charlie was evaluated and determined to be a good candidate. The arrangement is temporary and will last roughly a year. Senior Mammalogist Michele Sousa and Aquarium Veterinarian Dr. Lance Adams will drive to Northern California to make the transfer, dropping off Charlie with the lab’s staff and bringing Odin back to Long Beach.

Odin is an adult male otter born in the wild in 2003. He was found stranded as a young pup at a few weeks of age. He was later released into the wild but was returned to rehabilitation in 2008 and was eventually deemed non-releasable. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service placed Odin at the Long Marine Lab for participation in several planned studies of sea otter sensory biology.

The Long Marine Lab began research with southern sea otters in 2007 through a partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. According to the lab’s researchers, scientists know surprisingly little about the sensory biology of sea otters. With their study, the researchers hope to gain a better understanding of otters’ evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology, as well as the evolutionary pressures shaping underwater perception in marine mammals. This information will also be beneficial to management of critical coastal habitats.

The Long Marine Lab’s work focuses on pinnipeds, or marine mammals with flippers, such as seals and sea lions. Their other three resident animals include Rio the California sea lion, Sprouts the harbor seal, and Burnyce the northern elephant seal. While sea otters are mustelids (related to weasels, badgers, and ferrets), not pinnipeds, they are similar in that they are also amphibious mammals that live in the sea. Working with four different species of marine carnivores allows the researchers to look at the behavioral, sensory, and cognitive adaptations of these species as they relate to differences in evolution and ecology, according to the Long Marine Lab.

“Because sea otters are protected, there are very strict guidelines for their housing and care. Charlie will be very well cared for during his visit to the Long Marine Lab, and we are pleased that his participation in this study will help us better understand sea otters,” said Perry Hampton, VP of Husbandry at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

To learn more about the lab and its research, visit http://www.pinnipedlab.org/

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