Sea Otter Pups Benefit from Nursery at the Alaska SeaLife Center

sea otter pup in nursery
Animal Care Specialist, Savannah Costner, oversees Lupine, a sea otter rescued in July 2020, in the newly assembled nursery.

The Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) opened in 1998 and is a pioneer in marine mammal rehabilitation in Alaska and scientific research regarding the Alaskan marine environment. Specifically, their mission is to generate and share scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems.

Last year, we funded improvements to Alaska SeaLife Center’s sea otter nursery (pictured above; activities authorized under USFWS MA73418B-1) and the purchase of a BMDS thermometer scanner. We are proud to be able to work with ASLC again this year to continue improvements to the sea otter nursery and to advance a research study investigating pathogen presence in stranded evidently healthy sea otters.

Lupine, a sea otter rescued in Homer, Alaska in July 2020 investigates his new crib

In 2020, the ASLC team built a new crib to house infant sea otters when they arrive at the rehabilitation facility (see photo below; activities authorized under USFWS MA73418B-1). The new crib replaces a 20-year old model and gives the staff better access to the sea otter pups while creating a snug fit for the air mattress to cradle the pups during their frequent naptimes.

Additionally in 2020, a new floor for the sea otter nursery was assembled with Plas-TEAK decking material to institute a safer, more lightweight floor that is easy to clean while is also textured to prevent slippage for center staff and sea otter pups. The floor, being slightly elevated, can be sanitized much more readily while permitting any waste material from the pup to fall through onto the concrete floor underneath.

Sea otter enjoys a crab meal
Sea otters need to eat frequently throughout the day.

As the only marine mammal without blubber, sea otters must eat large daily quantities of food to maintain their body temperature and regulate their metabolism. A helpless pup that has been stranded cannot do this on its own and a key to rehabilitating these sea otter pups is being able to consistently monitor the pup’s body temperature, even at the center. Via the SOFT grant in 2020, the center was able to purchase a BMDS thermometer scanner allowing the staff to frequently measure the internal body temperature of sea otter pups in a non-invasive manner. Newly admitted very young pups need to have their temperature taken every two hours which can lead to unintended irritation. Additionally, according to Alaska SeaLife Center staff, “unusual behavior still warrants a temperature check. These older pups are more ‘opinionated,’ and it is much safer to do a quick scan over the shoulders than attempt to take a rectal temperature.”

Recently, the center has taken in two additional sea otter pups (one in November 2020: Pushki and one in January 2021: Juniper) that will join Lupine, pictured herein, in the new nursery digs. In 2021, our grant award will help the center continue to improve the nursery.

In addition to their need for large quantities of food, sea otters need to keep their fur clean and well-groomed. As rescues, the sea otter pups rely heavily on ASLC staff to handle a big portion of the grooming for them, so tools of the nursery include hairdryers, combs and brushes. One of the main goals for the nursery this year is to build a table that allows for the attachment of hairdryers while also having upturned edges so that the pup cannot roll off during grooming. Furthermore, the staff hopes to construct the table with adjustable legs for easy storage and to accommodate uneven surfaces.

Over and above the table construction, the center will use SOFT grant funds to build a secondary, larger crib for older pups or an adult sea otter that has been admitted to the center for treatment due to injury or illness.

Your donations help us continue to make these specific, directed sea otter grant awards to facilities like the Alaska SeaLife Center. Read more about Alaska SeaLife Center’s recent sea otter additions.