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Rosebud Woman Rescues Son from Drowning, Remains in Coma

On May 23, 29-year-old Rachel Sorace, Lakota, was preparing a barbeque picnic for herself and her children. They had gathered at Scout’s Reservoir Dam on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, in an area where many swim. As Rachel was beginning to cook and her children were wading in the water, her 7-year-old son was suddenly gone.

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Hello from Oregon!

Remember otter 649, the rescued male sea otter pup that was on exhibit for several months with companion otter, Gidget? We’re happy to announce he has a new name and a new home the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The orphaned pup was transported via private plane from Monterey to his new home in Newport, Oregon.

He was the 649th stranded otter to be brought into our sea otter program since 1984 and was only the sixth pup ever to go on exhibit.

Oswald had a furry companion on the plane, Juno— a female sea otter who stranded two months after Oswald and was also rescued and rehabilitated by our sea otter staff. Unlike 649 who was reared on exhibit, Juno was raised behind the scenes with surrogate mother Ivy. Our veterinarian, Dr. Mike Murray, and a mammalogist, escorted the two otters on the flight north. Juno’s found a new home at the Oregon Zoo, where animal caregivers look forward to introducing the youngster to their two resident adult sea otters. Both Oswald and Juno will make their public debuts this summer. 

We partner with Association of Zoos and Aquariums facilities across the country, like Oregon Coast Aquarium and Oregon Zoo, to find good homes for sea otters that can’t be released back to the wild.

Rearing animals like Oswald and Juno for lives at other homes when they aren’t candidates for release to the wild is helping the overall California sea otter population. Today, 36 rescued pups reared by surrogates in Monterey inspire millions of visitors at a dozen top aquariums and zoos in North America. Our resident sea otters and their predecessors have also raised dozens of pups that are back in the wild and having babies of their own.

Curious which otters are in the Sea Otter Exhibit now? Find out on our live web cam


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This morning a wild mother sea otter with a very young pup has been spotted in our Great Tide Pool. Check out this great video clip for your daily dose of cuteness! Thanks to staffer Alyssa Penacho for the clip.

Learn how we’re helping save sea otters

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 “Super Mom” Sea Otter, Joy, Dies

The Aquarium is sad to announce the death of Joy, its “Super Mom” who raised a record number of stranded sea otter pups, many of which were returned to the wild, where they’re raising pups of their own.

Joy, who was 14 years old, was humanely euthanized on August 1 in the Aquarium’s Animal Health Lab, because of failing health as a result of the infirmities of age.

The precocious sea otter was a keystone of the surrogacy program of the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. During her years at the Aquarium Joy raised 16 pups – more than any other surrogate in our history. She raised three pups on exhibit, helping prepare them for life at other U.S. aquariums. Joy did all this despite several medical setbacks during her years here.

“She was a ‘super mom’ for us – easily the most prolific of all our surrogate female otters,” said Karl Mayer, animal care coordinator with the sea otter program. His team also relied on Joy to serve as a companion to adult females it rescued because of illness or injuries.

On exhibit Joy was easy to identify with her blonde head, as well as her calm and maternal way with other animals. Her favorite toy was a large red ball she would roll on top of and sink in the water to release tidbits of food hidden inside. She enjoyed roughhousing with other otters, said Chris DeAngelo, the Aquarium’s associate curator of marine mammals.

“Joy was definitely the feistiest otter,” DeAngelo said. “She was quick to let you know when you crossed a line.” Joy would show her displeasure with her caretakers by screeching loudly if she thought they weren’t feeding her quickly enough, or if she otherwise didn’t like what they were doing.”

“From a medical perspective, she’s been a real fighter through some serious problems,” said Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray. “She has shown a cat-like tendency to survive, and must have had at least nine lives.”

Joy was found stranded on Twin Lakes Beach in Santa Cruz in August 1998 as a five-day-old pup. She released herself during an ocean swim with an Aquarium staff member in December 1998. (At the time Aquarium staff would swim with pups to teach them foraging skills and acclimate them to the ocean. That practice has been discontinued in favor of female otters like Joy raising pups for release.)

Joy remained in the wild for nearly three years. Unfortunately, during that time, she interacted with kayakers and divers, which wasn’t safe for them or for Joy, so she was brought back to the Aquarium and became a permanent resident.

Joy was always willing to play with her exhibit mates as well as toys, which endeared her to Aquarium guests. As with all exhibit animals raised here, her name comes from John Steinbeck’s writings – in her case, a character from In Dubious Battle.

The Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program has been studying and trying to save the threatened southern sea otter since 1984 with the support of its research, exhibit and policy teams, and the backing of donors and members. To date, we’ve rescued nearly 600 ill and injured otters and returned many back to the wild. The surrogate program continues to raise and release stranded pups, and places non-releasable animals on exhibit in Monterey and at other accredited aquariums across North America.

The research team plays a key role in field studies of sea otters in California, Alaska and Russia. We also works on behalf of policies at the state and federal level that will advance the recovery of sea otter populations.

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Otter Pup on Exhibit!

Cuteness alert! A rescued male sea otter pup went on exhibit January 21, with companion otter, Gidget. The debut of the 12 1/2-week-old makes him the sixth pup ever to go on exhibit. He’s also the 649th stranded otter to be brought into our Sea Otter Research and Conservation program since 1984.

Otter 649 was stranded in November 2013 on Jalama Beach in Santa Barbara County as a three-week-old  weighing less than seven pounds. He was admitted into our veterinary intensive care unit, where he was cared for until he was introduced to Gidget. Otter 649 is now robust and healthy, weighing 16 pounds!

Otter 649 will be transferred to another aquarium accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, where he’ll learn how to socialize with other exhibit animals. That’s why, for now, this otter has a number for a name—our colleagues at the sister aquarium get to do the naming!

Otter 649 is easy to recognize due to his smaller size and uniformly black, velvet-like fur. He will remain on exhibit as long as husbandry staff continues to see positive interactions with Gidget. (This is the first  pup Gidget has mentored.) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized the Aquarium to raise him on exhibit and declared him to be non-releasable. 

We hope you get a chance to see him!

Watch now on our live web cam

Learn how we’re saving sea otters

(Photo Hannah Ban-Weiss)

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Toola, the “Most Important Animal” in the History of the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program, Dies


The Monterey Bay Aquarium regrets to announce the death of Toola, a female sea otter who was arguably the most important animal in the 28-year history of the Aquarium’s pioneering Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. Toola died early March 3 in the Aquarium’s veterinary care center, of natural causes and infirmities of age.

She was the first rescued sea otter ever to raise pups that were successfully returned to the wild; and was the inspiration for state legislation that better protects sea otters.

Toola was about 15 or 16 years old when she died. She was rescued as a mature adult (5+ years of age) when she was found stranded on Pismo Beach on July 21, 2001. She suffered from neurological disorders, likely caused by infection of her brain by the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. The resulting seizure disorder required twice-daily anticonvulsant medication and prevented her release back into the wild.

But she quickly became a pioneer for the Aquarium – on exhibit and behind the scenes. Toola was the first otter ever to serve as a surrogate mother for stranded pups. She raised 13 pups over the years, including one that was weaned from her on Friday as her health declined. Of the 11 pups already released to the wild, at least 5 are still surviving – including the first animal she reared in 2001. Her pups have matured in the wild and gone on to give birth to 7 pups of their own, 5 of which have weaned successfully. Two more of her pups are still behind the scenes, on track for release later this year.

Toola’s most famous pup is the subject of a new feature film, Otter 501, which debuted in February at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

On exhibit, Toola’s story of exposure to the toxoplasmosis parasite that can be carried by cats inspired then-California State Assemblymember (now Insurance Commissioner) Dave Jones to introduce legislation to better protect California’s threatened sea otter population. His bill, co-authored with current California Resources Secretary John Laird, became law in 2006. Among other provisions, it created the California Sea Otter Fund that has generated more than $1 million in voluntary taxpayer contributions to support research into disease and other threats facing sea otters in the wild.

“Toola was without question the most important animal in the history of our program,” said Andrew Johnson, manager of the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. “She showed us that captive otters could successfully raise orphaned pups for return to the wild. She inspired a critical piece of legislation that is helping protect sea otters. And she inspired millions of visitors to care more about sea otters. We will miss her.”

“I will argue that there is no other single sea otter that had a greater impact upon the sea otter species, the sea otter programs worldwide, and upon the interface between the sea otters’ scientific community and the public,” said Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray.

Although she was at the Aquarium for more than a decade, she remained a wild animal at heart, said Associate Curator of Mammals Christine DeAngelo – and a strong-willed one, too.

“It was clear to everyone on the sea otter exhibit team that Toola, not me, was really in charge,” DeAngelo said. “When she wanted to work on something in a training session, she’d give me a ‘look’ or vocalize and I’d immediately cave in and do whatever she wanted. Now that she’s passed, we’re in need of another ‘head trainer’ to run the place.”

The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program has been studying and trying to save the threatened southern sea otter since 1984. With the support of its research, exhibit and policy teams, and the backing of donors and members, the Aquarium has rescued nearly 600 ill and injured otters, raises and releases stranded pups, and has placed non-releasable animals on exhibit in Monterey and at other accredited Aquariums across North America.

The research team plays a key role in field studies of sea otters in California, Alaska and Russia. The Aquarium also works on behalf of policies at the state and federal level that will advance the recovery of sea otter populations.

Help Us Find the Person Who Shot Three Sea Otters

In early September 2013, members of our Sea Otter Research and Conservation team recovered three sea otters that had been shot to death near Asilomar Beach, in Pacific Grove. State and federal authorities are actively investigating the fatal shootings, and now they need your help finding the perpetrator.

We and other sea otter conservation groups are offering a $21,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for the crime.

Southern sea otters are slowly recovering after being driven nearly to extinction by fur traders in the 19th century. Today, they’re protected under federal law by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Killing a California (or southern) sea otter is a crime punishable by federal and state fines, and possible jail time.

If you have any information about the shootings, contact Special Agent Souphanya of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 650-876-9078. Anonymous reports can also be made by calling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contact line at 703-358-1949, or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife CalTIP line at 1-888-DFG-CALTIP.

Reward contributions have been provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Sea Otter, the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, The U.C. Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and private individuals.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is providing a portion of the reward money from the California Sea Otter Fund, which is financed by voluntary contributions from state taxpayers. The fund helps support sea otter research and conservation, including the investigation of sea otter deaths and the enforcement of laws protecting sea otters. When filling out your California income tax form 540, look for line 410, labeled California Sea Otter Fund, under Contributions.

Learn more about the California Sea Otter Fund.

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Have you seen our auditorium presentation, “Luna: A Sea Otter’s Story”? Well, the real-life Luna, who was featured in the PBS Nature program, “Saving Otter 501,” recently had her second pup in the wild, according to our otter spotters. That’s good news for Luna, and for sea otter conservation.

Learn how we’re helping save sea otters.

(©Sea Studios Foundation)

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