Featured Image Credit: SeattleTimes
By Laura Lillycrop
Remember the emaciated sea otter pup, just weeks old, who was found washed up this August on a remote beach in Washington State? Well he has been officially moved to his new forever home at the Vancouver Aquarium. Yay!
The pup, named Rialto, was found on August 1st and named after the beach where he was found. “It was a tiny pup, maybe 14 inches long. It was moving, crawling a little bit,” said Joseph Alcorn, a wilderness ranger for the National Park Service who first encountered the sea otter. Alcorn also commented, “The waves would crash over it, and it would be moved up the beach and it was barely strong enough to right itself. It was pretty tragic. I didn’t think it had much more time left.”
Rialto was taken to the Seattle Aquarium, where he received around-the-clock care from staff that included a rotating team of specialists from the Vancouver Aquarium. Unfortunately, because Seattle did not have enough room for him, the sea otter needed a new place to live. After more than six weeks of 24-hour care at the Seattle Aquarium, the pup is now healthy, and on Monday he made the trip to his new home in Vancouver.
Rialto is currently being cared for in a behind-the-scenes nursery. He will be introduced to the other sea otters one at a time, once he has acquired the survival skills he never had the opportunity to learn from his mother.
“Wild sea otter pups can have low survival rates,” said Dr. Martin Haulena, head veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, in a recent release. He also suggested that “This guy was really sick, so the odds were stacked against him.”
“He was sleeping a lot, fighting pneumonia, and not super strong yet,” said Vancouver Aquarium’s senior marine mammal trainer Kristi Heffron. The senior trainers revealed that “He has since kicked his pneumonia and has gained a lot of weight and is acting like a normal sea otter.”
According to the Vancouver Aquarium, sea otters are basically helpless at birth. A mother otter will often carry her pup on her tummy for weeks so she can groom and feed it, as well as teach it to swim, dive, and forage for food. Because Rialto never learned those skills, U.S. officials deemed him non-releasable. Baby sea otters, even in their mother’s care, have only a 50 percent chance of surviving in the wild. Rialto’s chances of survival when he first arrived at the facility were much lower.
Brian Sheehan, curator of marine mammals at Vancouver Aquarium, hopes Rialto will soon join his fellow otters at the aquarium stating, “It will depend on him and his progress, but we’ll begin letting him swim for short stretches in the larger pool, and then introduce him to the other otters one at a time.” For now, Rialto’s only tasks are just to sleep, gain weight, and play. What a life.
Vancouver Aquarium’s three other rescued sea otter residents (Elfin, Tanu and Katmai) were all rescued in Alaska. In the meantime, those interested in the progress can follow Rialto’s story via live webcam.