Orphaned Baby Otter Settles into New Home in Chicago

pup 681 swimming
Getting comfortable in her new home at Shedd Aquarium, "Pup 681" goes for a swim. (Image credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez)

An orphaned sea otter pup was rescued from a beach in California last month, but now, the camera-friendly creature is starting over in the Midwest, with 24-hour care at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.

The baby otter was just a week old when it was rescued, and weighed barely more than 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms). A person heard the newborn otter's cries on Sept. 30, while taking an evening walk along the beach near the border between California's San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties.

Wildlife officials went to the site the next day. With no otter mother in sight, they determined that the pup was orphaned and transported her to Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, where she was christened "Pup 681." [See photos of the orphaned otter pup in her new home]

"Pup 681's situation was urgent," Tim Binder, vice president of animal collections for the Shedd Aquarium, said in a statement

She was quite small for a newborn — just about 2.2 lbs. (1.0 kilograms). And since she had been separated from her mother for at least 16 hours, she needed to take in calories as soon as possible, aquarium officials said. The thick-furred animals typically stay with their mothers until they are up to 8 months old. (Fathers are out of the picture after mating.) Sea otters need to eat the equivalent of a quarter of their body weight every day to keep their metabolic rate up and maintain their internal body temperature at 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius).

By last week, the pup was in stable condition at Monterey, and was then sent to a more permanent home at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.

Caretakers report that she is doing well and hitting all the right milestones, such as eating solid foods (shrimp and clams). She's even learning how to groom herself and regulate her body temperature by climbing onto white towels to get dry after a swim.

"It truly takes a village to rehabilitate a young sea otter," Binder said. "Our animal care team is teaching the pup how to be an otter. While the process is lengthy, our hands-on experience and long history rehabilitating sea otters allows us to use our expertise to work on saving this pup's life by providing her with a home and the care she needs."

"Pup 681" will eventually get a less clinical name, aquarium officials said.

"The marine mammal staff is in the process of selecting several name choices and our members and the public will have an opportunity to vote on a name for the pup in November," a spokesperson for the aquarium told Live Science in an email.

Southern sea otters are found off the coast of California. The creatures were nearly hunted to extinction to feed the fur trade during the 18th and 19th centuries. The animals started making a comeback in the 20th century, but they are still listed as "threatened" on the U.S. Endangered Species List. According to a recent count from the U.S. Geological Survey, the population of the subspecies is at about 2,944, barely up from last year's estimate.

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Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.