Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is home to two Southern sea otters, Buck and Emma, who came from California's Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1999. Found stranded and then rehabilitated by Monterey Bay Aquarium, Buck and Emma were deemed unable to return to the wild. Their species is endangered in the wild so finding them a new, safe home was top priority.
In the kelp forests off the California coast, sea otters spend all of their lives in the water. They eat, sleep, mate and even give birth at sea! At Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, their custom-made habitat, a 25,000-gallon exhibit, features two swimming pools at different depths, rock nooks and a large behind-the-scenes area.
Audubon's sea otter enrichment program, designed specifically for Buck and Emma, includes a wide range of toys, treats and daily training. The training program is particularly important because it increases the bond between the animals and the husbandry staff, provides mental exercises, and enables the animals to participate in their own health care. The training sessions are positive and fun so health care becomes stress-free as the otters come willingly when it's time for weigh-ins and check-ups.
Sea otters have a very high metabolism ranking them among nature's most voracious consumers. They eat an amazing 20 to 30 percent of their body weight each day and their pricey seaside menu includes shrimp, crabs, squid, clams, mussels and other invertebrates. Because their diet includes so many shelled animals sea otters have become the only animals besides birds, man and a few other primates that use tools (they wield rocks or shells to break open their prey).
For Buck, who weighs 61 pounds, that kind of diet can translate in to 9-12 pounds of seafood per day! Emma, a little smaller, eats slightly less. But it is all fuel for an internal furnace. Otters stay warm in the cold water by producing their own body heat; they retain the warmth through incredibly thick fur—the densest fur of any mammal; their skin stays dry because otter fur repels water with natural oils; and the air trapped between their hairs acts as insulation. That is why you see the sea otters constantly grooming—they are fluffing the hair and forming air bubbles near the skin to create their own version of bubble wrap!
Ironically, the sea otter's fur is its most important survival adaptation and the reason it is now an endangered animal. In the 18th- and 19th-centuries these animals were hunted for their pelts to near extinction. Through conservation efforts, their numbers have grown but they are once again facing a decrease in population due to diseases, pollutants, low food availability, kelp harvesting and net entrapment. Protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, the Southern sea otter's range, which once spanned from Japan to Baja California is now limited to the Central California coast. Buck and Emma are also under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has entrusted their care to Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
Come meet Buck and Emma at the Aquarium and let them show you what it takes to be a sea otter!
Adopt Buck and Emma through Audubon Nature Institute's Adopt An Animal program.