The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, working with our partner, the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC), is providing a safe home for a newborn sea otter pup found stranded along an Alaskan coastline. Visitors can see the little pup in a special nursery in the lower level of Water’s Edge beginning Friday, April 27.
Residents of Port Heiden found the little pup lying next to other sea otters, all who had died from exposure. The sea otters were cut off from the ocean by a frozen bay and, in an attempt to get to the ocean, accidentally beached themselves off the coast of Port Heiden. “Residents along the Alaskan coastline have helped to rescue stranded sea otters before, but this was a first for the residents of Port Heiden,” says Brett Long, husbandry director at the Alaskan SeaLife Center. “We told the caregivers how to keep him alive until we could arrive.”
The most important concern was to ensure the pup was in a cool environment, its temperature remained steady, and it received fluids and electrolytes. The residents used a baby bottle filled with “Pedialyte”, a milk replacer, to feed the pup every couple of hours.
“The little otter is very lucky,” says Dr. Barbara Baker, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “Sea otter pups depend on three things to survive—food, body temperature, and their coat being in good condition. They must eat enough food to replenish 35% of their body weight.” Mothers also care for their pup’s coats until they are old enough to do it alone. When the pup became separated from his mother, it was only a matter of hours before he would become hypoglycemic from not eating. And, he was susceptible to exposure, because his fur was matted and did not provide protection from exposure.
Once the ASLC and the Pittsburgh Zoo staff agreed on transporting the little otter to Pittsburgh, they quickly utilized a relationship with FedEx, whose FedEx Ground operating company is headquartered in Pittsburgh, to organize transport from Anchorage to Pittsburgh though FedEx Express’s air network.
The next milestones for the little pup will be to acclimate to his new environment in Pittsburgh, begin eating solid food, and to respond to keeper’s cues which will teach him cooperative and husbandry behaviors. These behaviors will allow him to participate in his own care such as voluntary weigh-ins, and presentation of paws and flippers. He will develop his natural instincts as he grows and when he is bigger will be slowly introduced to Alki and Chugach, the Zoo’s current sea otter residents.