Happy Birthday Emma, the Sea Otter :)

December 14, 2010 | Tag(s): birthday, Buck, Emma, enrichment, Sea Otter
By: Noel, Sea Otter Trainer
Emma and her ice cake!

Today is a really exciting day for myself and the rest of the husbandry crew here at the Aquarium. Our sea otter, Emma, is celebrating another birthday here at the Audubon Aquarium.

Emma is one of two Southern sea otter's currently housed at the Aquarium of the America's. She was born December 14, 1997. Unlike our male otter, Buck (who has a silverish colored head and neck), Emma has a brown, carmel colored head and body.

Emma was found at just 5 weeks old, much too young to be away from mom, stranded on Three Mile Beach in Santa Cruz, California. At the time, she weighed a mere 5.8 pounds. The Monterey Bay Aquarium responded to her stranding and after some observations it was clear that Emma had been abandoned or orphaned by her mother.

Emma was found to be a healthy otter and was placed in Monterey Bay's Sea Otter Rehabilitation and Conservation (SORAC) program. Here, she received the 24 hour care that she needed as a pup including feedings, grooming, and ample interaction with other sea otter's.

After 26 weeks in the program, Emma was released into back into Monterey Bay weighing a whopping 29.6 pounds. The following 6 days proved to be unsuccessful for Emma. She was observed by the aquarium staff in and around the boat harbor areas, what few trips she did take out to open water proved unsuccessful and it became apparent that Emma was not hunting for food on her own. After being observed chasing people from the local pier, it was decided that a captive situation would be the best option for her safety (as well as the people in the area).

In September of 1998 she was moved with Buck to Sea World San Diego. After a short stay there they were moved to New Orleans and their current exhibit at the Audubon Aquarium of the America's. At the time of her arrival she weighed 46 pounds! a staggering 40 pound difference from her intial stranding less than a year ago.

Today Emma is a very mischievous otter. She is constantly working to disassemble toys. One of her favorites are a set of teething keys. Whoever dives the exhibits each week can usually find a set shoved aside in a small hole in the exhibit as a tucked away toy.

I can assure you balloons and streamers were in no short supply for our furry friend as we helped her celebrate in a special way! We made two ice cakes as part of our celebration over the weekend. You can see how we make these unique ice treats on our youtube channel here:


Enrichment is really important for all of our animals here at the aquarium. Sea otters spend a majority of their day avoiding predators, searching for food, finding shelter and mates- obviously in a captive situation a lot of those things are non-existent or are provided for them. Which is why enrichment is so important, it provides them with new and different items each day and gives the otters a way to use the energy they would normally put towards wild situations.

We provide enrichment in several ways, the most obvious is our different toy items which we put in daily. We can switch up our feed times or what pool they are being fed in. The more creative we can be the higher quality of life is going to be. We also give an ice treat each day after our 2pm sea otter talk. This is a treat put into a cake mold or a cup with a little food coloring to allow them to better see the treats. These treats also have clam or crab legs. So basically it's a lot like an otter modified popsicle.

For our otter's birthday we like to step this enrichment up a notch! Enter our birthday cakes! These are layers of ice with crab legs and clam frozen inside that Emma has to break apart to get to the yummy stuff that is inside. Needless to say, Emma had a great birthday!


Interested in learning more about how you can help the Audubon Aquarium and Buck and Emma? Did you know you can adopt a sea otter? Click here for more information!

(if you missed the cake giving this go around- don't worry Buck's birthday is only a few months away- April 25 :-)