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2 Sea Otters Found Alone On Beach Come To Shedd Aquarium To Learn How To Mother Orphaned Otter Pups

The sea otters — named Otter 926 and Otter 929 for now — will be raised at the Shedd before heading to a partner aquarium.

Two unnamed otters will joining three more already at the Shedd Aquarium.
Shedd Aquarium and Brenna Hernandez
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DOWNTOWN — Two female southern sea otters have come to the Shedd Aquarium to grow up together and learn to serve as surrogate mothers.

The sea otters — named Otter 926 and Otter 929 for now — will be raised at Shedd before returning to a partner aquarium, where they can be surrogate mothers to orphaned sea otter pups, according to the aquarium.

The Sea Otter Surrogacy Program program pairs rescued sea otters with orphaned pups so the babies can learn survival skills before being released to the wild, according to the Shedd.

The program was started by Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California. Otter 926 and Otter 929 come via the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California.

Southern sea otters have been a threatened species since 1977 because of the fur trade and threat of oil spills, according to the Marine Mammal Commission.

Shedd is the first inland aquarium to provide a temporary home for non-releasable female otters such as 926 and 929.

“At Shedd, we’ve historically been a home for otters that could not return to the wild, providing long-term care and connecting Chicagoans to this important keystone species,” Peggy Sloan, the Shedd’s chief animal operations, said in the news release. “As the aquatic animal world continues to grapple with the effects of climate change and widespread biodiversity loss, this shift is one way we can support solutions to bolster endangered populations in the wild.”

Otter 926 and Otter 929 were found stranded this year at beaches in California, according to a news release. The weeks-old pups were taken in by the Monterey Bay Aquarium after searches for their mothers were unsuccessful.

The otters got months of critical care at the Aquarium of the Pacific, which “provided for the rescues around-the-clock, preparing diets and feeding them, observing the animals, monitoring milestones and more,” according to the news release.

Credit: Shedd Aquarium and Brenna Hernandez
Otters from California have moved to Chicago.

At Shedd, the otters will join three others — Luna, Cooper and Watson — who are also rescues. The animal care team will monitor the new otters as they acclimate to the nation’s third-largest city and get introduced to the otter habitat in the Abbott Oceanarium.

Otter 926 and Otter 929 will be taught critical life skills by caretakers to prepare them to care for pups. Mothers must teach their pups how to dive to forage food and how to groom their dense fur to survive Pacific Ocean temperatures, according to the Shedd.

Sea otters are the smallest marine mammals and are known to spend up to four hours each day grooming their hair, which is the thickest fur in the animal kingdom, according to the Shedd. They eat bottom-dwelling, nearshore animals such as clams, crabs and octopus.

Shedd will provide updates as the otters grow and “any plans around naming them soon,” according to the news release.

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