The visitors and staff at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Great Tide Pool were greeted by a surprise furry bundle of joy; a wild sea otter attached to her mom, umbilical cord and all.
The otter mom was visiting the tidal pool at the Monterey Bay Aquarium more often than usual, which prompted concern about her health from the aquarium officials, as it is unusual for a healthy otter to drop by the pool so frequently.
But the mysterious otter soon made it clear why she was hanging out by the pool. She was about to give birth. And voila, the staff were greeted that morning by the sight of an adorable newborn otter pup cuddling up to mom, receiving some grooming.
“As you probably know by now, a wild baby sea otter was born this morning in our Great Tide Pool! For the last several days, a wild female sea otter had been using the protected basin of our Great Tide Pool to rest from the winter storms. Last night, just as the Aquarium closed, she was spotted once again slinking into the pool for some shut-eye. It’s rare for a healthy sea otter to visit the pool so frequently—we started to wonder if she was doing all right.”
“Well, mystery solved! Around 8:30 a.m., Aquarium staff witnessed a BRAND NEW pup resting on her belly, being furiously groomed by a proud momma. We’re talking umbilical-chord-still-attached, whoa-is-that-yep-that’s-the-placenta new-born otter pup!”
Sea otters are the only otters to give birth in the water. Mothers nurture their young while floating on their backs. They hold infants on their chests to nurse them and quickly teach the pup to swim and hunt. This aquatic member of the weasel family is found along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean in North America and Asia.
The otter birth has been hailed as a conservation success story. The fur trade that began in the 1740s had reduced the sea otter’s numbers to an estimated 1,000 to 2,000. The Aquarium’s blog shared more details about the excited reaction to the pup’s birth.
“In steady waves, Aquarium staff, volunteers, and then the days’ visitors made their way to the back deck to watch a conservation success story taking place—and become fluffier in front of their eyes. Not that long ago, sea otters were hunted to near extinction. Maybe 50 were left in all of California by the early 1800’s. But now, thanks to legislative protection and a change of heart toward these furriest of sea creatures, the otter population has rebounded to steady levels in the Monterey Bay, and with 3,000 total in central California. “
The aquarium uploaded pictures of the mom and baby with the mother otter grooming her pup’s fur, which is considered to be its primary form of insulation. Sea Otter fur is exceptionally thick, and it is the densest fur in the animal kingdom.
The National Geographic reports that sea otters are meticulously clean. After eating, they wash their fur in the ocean, cleaning their coat with their teeth and paws. They have good reason to take care of their coats as it helps them to remain waterproof and insulated against the cold. Sea otters have thick underfur that traps air to form an insulating layer against the chilly waters, and they have no insulating fat. This coat is invaluable to otters, but to the detriment of Sea Otters, it has worth to some humans as well.
The aquarium staff has also put a Periscope rebroadcast link on their blog for those who are interested in watching the birth footage online.
[Image via Monterey Bay Aquarium]