Happy Birthday Buck!!

April 19, 2011 | Tag(s): birthday, Buck, sea otters
By: Noel, Sea Otter Trainer
Buck the Southern Sea Otter

Our sea otter, Buck, is celebrating his 14th birthday here at the Audubon Aquarium.

Buck is one of two  Southern sea otter's currently housed at the Aquarium of the America's. He was born April 25, 1997. Unlike our female otter, Emma (who has a brown colored head and neck), Buck has a more silver colored head.

Buck was found on Carmel River Beach curled up in a ball and dry. He was just two days old and should have been with his mother. At the time, he weighed a mere 2.82 lbs. The Monterey Bay Aquarium responded to his stranding and after some observations it was clear that Buck had been abandoned or orphaned by his mother.

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

Sea otter’s unlike other marine mammals do not have a layer of blubber to keep them warm. Instead they rely on a couple of special adaptations to keep them warm in the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean. First, their fur is very thick. They actually have about a million hairs per square inch of their body. We have about 100,000 hairs on our whole head so we don’t even come close to what a sea otter has! Second, they have very fast metabolisms. Otters will eat 15-50% of their body weight in a given day! If you went to McDonald’s and wanted to eat like an otter, you’d have to eat 100 quarter pounders! That is a lot of food!

So while  Buck was being rehabilitated at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, he needed a lot of help doing things his mother would normally be teaching. When they are that young, they do not know how to care for their fur. And if left ungroomed sea otter’s can actually become hypothermic and die. So the rehab team took turns combing Buck’s fur with a fine toothed comb and blowing it dry with a hair dryer on the cold air setting. Along with that he needed to eat a lot. He normally would be nursing from his mother. So instead a human caregiver had to step in and play mom. And because sea otter’s eat sooo much you can imagine how much formula was used!

Once it was obvious  Buck was ready to be back in the wild, he was released into back into Monterey Bay weighing a whopping 32 lbs. Initially, his release was considered successful. Upon observation, it was noted that his fur was in great condition and he was exhibiting the needed foraging skills to survive. However, after several months, Monterey Bay Aquarium began getting reports of a sea otter interacting with divers and jumping into kayaks. Buck had become what we call imprinted on people. He had learned very early in his life that people mean all the things that he needs including food. The rehab team became concerned about his well-being as well as the people he was coming into contact with. He was deemed non-releasable and brought back into a captive situation.

In September of 1998, Buck and Emma were moved to Sea World San Diego. After a short stay, they were moved to New Orleans and their current exhibit at the Audubon Aquarium of the America's. At the time of his arrival he weighed 53 lbs! a staggering 50 lbs difference from his initial stranding a year and a half ago.

Today, Buck is a very excited animal who loves to eat all sorts of food! One of his new recent favorites are lobster tails. Now weighing 62 lbs, Buck spends a lot of his time foraging the bottom of his pool for any missed food during a session and playing with Emma.

Starting April 22, we will kick off our Buck Birthday celebration with balloons and streamers galore. Saturday and Sunday (23rd and 24th) stop by our sea otter chat at 2pm for a special cake giving talk. Sorry, this cake is specially made for our otters out of ice, clam, crab claws, and food coloring. But even though you can’t eat it, it’s still a lot of fun to watch. Click here to see just how we make these awesome birthday cakes!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vyt259HCTKE

Birthday cakes are just one of many ways we can provide enrichment to our sea otters. 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. Plus it is a lot of fun to watch!

We hope you can make it out this weekend and help us wish Buck a HAPPY 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!