California Harbor Department and Fish and Wildlife officials managed to return a lost baby otter to its mother earlier this week. A video shot in the city of Morro Bay showed the moment when the two were reunited.
In the video, the mother swims up to a boat where officials are holding the tiny baby otter over the water. Then, they the baby is tossed into the water and the mother momentarily disappears under the surface before returning before for her baby and swimming away. Harbor Department and Fish and Wildlife officials say a commercial fisherman helped them locate the mother and reunite her with the baby. It is not clear how they became separated.
“In Morro Bay, anytime we have a separated pup like this, the ideal outcome is to pair it up with its mom,” said Mike Harris of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The wildlife officials recorded the baby otter’s yelps and used a Bluetooth speaker to play the cries in an effort to find the mother, Harris said. When pups and mothers get separated, they cry out in order to find each other again. “Every otter we saw, we’d stop, they’d see us and we’d get some kind of reaction for the vocals,” Harris said.
The team located three or four otters before finding another group near the South T Pier — about a mile away from where the pup was located. Immediately after playing the recording, a female showed interest and starting calling back before approaching the boat.
The wildlife officials had to act quickly once they saw the mother. At first, the wanted to place the pup in the water and back away but there was n0t enough room behind them, so they decided to gently toss the pup to its mother.
“Pups at this age have natal pelage, which is essentially a life jacket,” Harris said. “They can’t dive until they shed that natal fur at about 12 weeks of age.” He added that he was ready with a net to retrieve the pup if anything went wrong. Though the mother was skittish at first, she quickly cradled the pup and returned with her baby to the group.
Harris said there are normally several cases of otter separation every year in Morro Bay. They are often caused by storms when the currents are strong and separate mothers from their babies.
Sea otters play a vital role in the health of California’s marine ecosystems. They eat sea urchins and other animals that feed on kelp, keeping populations under control so kelp forests can flourish and support other plants and animals.
Though sea otters once thrived from Baja California and around the Pacific Rim to Russia and Japan, fur hunters nearly exterminated them in the 1700s and 1800s. The California population has increased from 50 survivors off Big Sur in 1938 to nearly 3,000 today. Although their numbers have grown, they still face risks such as oil spills and white shark bites. In order to prosper, they need to expand their range to find new areas with enough food.