DOWNTOWN — Allow these otters to reintroduce themselves.
Two sea otters rescued at California beaches and given a home a Shedd Aquarium will now go by Suri and Willow, aquarium officials announced Tuesday.
The teenage girls were originally called Otter 926 and Otter 929. Over 9,000 people voted in a public poll to name Otter 929 as Willow, aquarium officials said. Shedd leaders chose the name Suri for Otter 926.
Both names are inspired by places along the coast in California where most southern sea otters are found. Willow is named after Willow Creek Beach in Monterey County, California. Suri is named for Big Sur on California’s central coast.
Suri and Willow were brought to the Shedd Aquarium last month to learn to be surrogate mothers as part of a nationwide program to save sea otters.
The otters will grow up together in Chicago before returning to an aquarium in California to raise orphaned otter pups, according to Shedd leaders.
It’s easy to mix up Suri and Willow, aquarium officials said. They’re both small compared to other otters at the aquarium: just about 30 pounds each.
Suri has shorter whiskers and a bigger personality. Willow has golden whiskers and is more reserved, aquarium leaders said.
Suri and Willow will live in the otter habitat at the Shedd’s Abbott Oceanarium alongside new friends, including otters Luna, Cooper and Watson. The aquarium last week also welcomed a baby otter pup, Qilak.
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.
The future mothers will be taught critical life skills by caretakers to prepare them to care for pups, Shedd officials said. Mothers must teach their pups how to dive to forage food and how to groom their dense fur to survive Pacific Ocean temperatures, Shedd officials said.
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.
Visitors now can see Suri and Willow at the Shedd’s oceanarium exhibit, aquarium officials said.
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