Part 1: Seattle Aquarium staff assist with sea otter rehabilitation in Alaska

Follow along with Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Mariko Bushcamp and Aubrey Theiss, who recently traveled to the Alaska SeaLife Center to assist with the rehabilitation of an orphaned sea otter pup!

The Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) wildlife response and rehabilitation program is located in Seward, Alaska, a small city in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. It is the only facility in the state of Alaska authorized to rehabilitate live marine mammals. Their program is not only critical in responding to marine wildlife in need, but also in gathering scientific knowledge to better understand changes in Alaska’s wild populations and ecosystems.

Photo via the Alaska SeaLife Center

Although it is the ASLC’s goal to release rescued animals, that’s not always possible. Due to the dependency sea otter pups have on their mothers, they are deemed non-releasable if they are orphaned at less than six months of age. A sea otter mother gives her pup almost constant attention—grooming, nursing, and eventually giving swimming, diving and foraging lessons. Orphaned pups are therefore unable to develop the skills needed to succeed in the wild and must go into human care at a zoo or aquarium.

Just as caring for a pup is a 24-hour job for a sea otter mother, orphaned pups also need around-the-clock attention. Stay tuned for our next posts, all about sea otter pup care!

What to do if you spot marine mammal in distress?

Call 1-87SEAOTTER for sea otters; if you see any other species of marine mammal in need of rescue, please call the NOAA Stranding Network hotline 1-866-767-1964.

It’s important to understand that seals and sea lions naturally use the shore to rest. Most often reported in Washington state are harbor seal pups, from late spring into early fall. A mother harbor seal only nurses her pup for four to six weeks before it is weaned and on its own. It is quite common for hungry, tired, solitary pups to rest on land during their transition to independence.

If the animal appears injured or has not moved from one location for more than 24 hours, it may be time for professionals to assess the situation. Providing as much information as possible about the animal you are reporting can be very helpful when prioritizing response. How long has the animal been stranded? Describe the exact location. Does it appear to be injured? Any and all information can be helpful.

Approaching, touching or picking up a seal is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and subject to a fine. Whether you’re on land or in the water, viewing of any marine mammal must be from a distance of at least 100 yards (the length of a football field). Disturbing or handling a wild seal is not only potentially harmful for the seal’s natural life cycle, but it can also be very dangerous to people and dogs, as seals have sharp teeth and can inflict serious bites.

Activities authorized by USFWS permit LOA-837414

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