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Alaska SeaLife Center caring for record number of sea otter pups

By Heather Hintze 4:59 PM March 23, 2016
SEWARD –

It’s an otter overload at the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward. Staffers are currently caring for six sea otter pups, a record number for the facility.

The newest resident is a one-month old male found near Seldovia when he was just a couple days old.

“It’s pretty much all hands on deck to take care of this guy,” said lab coordinator Natalie Rouse as she gave the baby a bottle. “He’s fed every two or three hours. He gets fed less the older he gets.”

Rouse and the other caregivers spend their time mimicking what the otter’s mother would do in the wild.

“She’d be teaching him it’s not okay to bite, which is part of our job,” Rouse said as she towel dried the pup after his bath. “He’s also teething, so she’d be helping him through that.”

He’s one of six male sea otters that have come in in the past few months. One pup was found near Cordova, the rest came from the Kachemak Bay area.

The Sealife Center’s Mammal Curator, Derek Woodie, said since the center is the only permanent stranding facility in Alaska, it’s bracing for even more otters in the next few months.

“Last year was our busiest rescue and stranding season ever,” said Woodie. “We were almost 300-percent higher in our case load than the year before which was also a record year as well.”

The three older otters — Atka, Kesuk and Pukiq — have been at the Seward facility for a few months. Each eats about ten pounds of food a day so the staffers spend most of their time in the kitchen doing meal prep.

“These guys eat a mixture of clam and squid, it’s the bulk of their daily diet,” mammalogist Emmy Wood explained. “We’re busy pretty much all day from the moment we walk in the door to when we leave taking care of these guys.”

Caring for the otters isn’t just time consuming, it’s expensive, especially for a non-profit organization.

“If you’ve been to the store and seen how much a pound of clams costs … 2,500 pounds just for these guys for the next few months is what I’m looking at,” Woodie said. “One otter is in the tens of thousands of dollars probably.”

Another issue the center is running into is finding enough homes for the pups. Woodie said most of the vacancies in aquariums around the United States are being filled by sea otters from California. Alaska’s otters could end up being world travelers.

Transfers take months of planning and paperwork. Atka, Kesuk and Pukiq are part of the behind-the-scenes tour at the Sealife Center while they wait for their permits to go to a yet-to-be-announced aquarium overseas.

“They’ll be ambassadors for their species and for Alaska as well which is really important,” Woodie said.

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