CURIOUS CRITTER: Sea otters are not a common site in the area; but all B.C. residents

Public asked to help name rescued otters

The Vancouver Aquarium has taken charge of two rescued otter pups, who are enjoying their new home but need names.

Sea otters are creatures that are not often associated with this region; but people from all across the province can have a say in the naming of two sea otter pups recently welcomed to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

The pups will be receiving long-term care at the aquarium after being rescued in in Alaska. A male pup, who was approximately a week old when he was found in February, and a female pup, who was estimated as being 23 days old when she was found in March, received months of rehabilitation at the Alaska SeaLife Center’s I-Sea-U, where they received 24-hour care until they were out of danger.

The pups were both declared non-releasable by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, as they were so young when they were rescued that they had not learned any survival skills. The Vancouver Aquarium was asked to provide a long-term home for both mammals, and they arrived there on November 1.

Brian Sheehan, the aquarium’s curator of marine mammals, says that the two pups have already been joined by a third pup, Rialto, who arrived at the centre in August after being rescued in Washington State. It’s the first step in introducing the trio of new arrivals to older otters Elfin, Tanu, and Katmai.

The new otter pups taking it easy at the Vancouver Aquarium. Photo courtesy Vancouver Aquarium

“This will help acclimatize the young otters to each other. We want the three to be comfortable with each other and know how to interact with other otters. We’ll wait for them to tell us how to progress.” Sheehan says that the first of the older otters the pups will be introduced to will probably be Tanu, a 12-year-old female, because of her temperament and disposition.

The oldest otter currently at the aquarium is Elfin, a 15-year-old male. Sheehan says that otters in captivity can live to their late teens, whereas otters in the wild generally live to their early teens. “A sea otter’s life is pretty rough.”

He adds that the Vancouver Aquarium has a long history of rescuing and rehabilitating wild mammals. “It goes back to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989. We rescued and rehabilitated several sea otters then, and it’s continued ever since.”

A shortlist of six names has been drawn up, and Sheehan says they try to find names that honour the area where the otters were found or people who were part of the rescue. The six names are Mak, Fritz, Paxson, Tutka, Kunik, and Kalluk.

Kunik is the Inuit word for “kiss”, and Mak is short for Kachemak Bay, where the young male pup was found. “It also means ‘kiss’ in Inuit,” says Sheehan, adding that the public naming process is an “opportunity for people to be involved and have a connection with the aquarium.”

People of all ages from across B.C. can vote on the names—which will be announced on November 17—at http://youotternamethem.hscampaigns.com/. Entrants can vote on up to two names per day until November 16.

The names of two participants in the naming contest will be drawn at random, with the winners receiving a “sea otter encounter for two”, featuring an up close and memorable interaction with the mammals. To get a look at the new arrivals without travelling to Vancouver, go to the website above, which features a live webcam showing the pool containing Rialto and the two new arrivals.