Student View
Article

A grown-up sea otter cares for a pup that has lost its mother.

VERN FISHER/KRT/Newscom

Saving Sea Otters

When baby sea otters are in trouble, these furry helpers come to the rescue.

As You Read: Find at least two things sea otter pups learn from their moms. Underline them in the article.

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, a call comes in. A baby sea otter has been found on the beach. It’s crying for its mother—but she is nowhere to be found.

The aquarium team must act fast. Without its mother, a sea otter pup can’t survive for long. So the team rushes the pup to the aquarium. There, an older sea otter will care for the baby as if it were her own. She will teach the pup everything it needs to know about life in the sea.

Together at Sea

Sea otters are marine mammals that make their home in the Pacific Ocean. Many sea otters live in kelp forests, spots where seaweed called kelp grows on the ocean floor. Kelp forests are full of food for otters—like spiky creatures called sea urchins. But baby otters have to be taught how to find it.

When a sea otter is born, it spends months with its mom. She teaches it to swim, clean itself, and find food.

Sadly, a mother and pup can sometimes get separated. A mother otter might even die from a disease or an injury, like getting hit by a boat. In these cases, the Monterey Bay Aquarium steps in to help.

Otter Lessons

When a baby otter first arrives at the aquarium, it gets care from doctors and other human helpers. But soon a real expert takes over—a grown-up otter.

Each pup is paired with an older female sea otter that has lived at the aquarium for years. The older otter acts like the baby’s mom. She teaches it to crack open clam shells and sea urchins. She shows it how to wash its face with its paws.

“The adult otters guide the pups,” says scientist Karl Mayer. “They teach the pups that they are sea otters.”

The Wild Side

After about 10 months, a pup has learned its lessons. The team brings it to the sea.

Every sea otter’s return is good news for nature. That’s because these creatures are an important part of their ecosystems. For example, in a kelp forest, otters eat sea urchins, and urchins eat kelp. When otters are not around, the urchin population can get too big. The urchins can destroy the kelp forest.

Once an otter is back in the sea, the team uses special equipment to track it and make sure it’s doing well.

“We want to give it the best chance of survival in the wild,” says Mayer.

1. What problem is identified in the first paragraph?

2. What steps does the Monterey Bay Aquarium take to help a baby otter?

3. Why are sea otters an important part of the ecosystem in which they live?

Back to top
videos (1)
Skills Sheets (2)
Skills Sheets (2)
TEACHER SUPPORT (1)