A tiny sea otter pup is recovering at Vancouver Aquarium after being found alone and distressed in the waters off northern Vancouver Island.
The male pup, estimated to be between two and four weeks old, was spotted by boaters on Sunday, after it began following their boat while crying out.
There were no adult sea otters in sight and the boaters removed the pup from the water and took it to Port Hardy.
Officers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) then arranged for the pup to be moved to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
“Sea otters have high energetic needs; after birth they spend about six months with mom, nursing, being groomed by her and learning to forage and be a sea otter, so this little guy is still a fully dependent pup,” said the centre’s manager Lindsaye Akhurst in a release.
“He would not survive on his own, and we’re providing him with the care he needs right now.”
According to the release, the pup seems healthy, but staff and volunteers are spending shifts feeding, bathing and grooming the newborn pup, which has not yet been named.
Although the boaters who took in the pup were well intentioned, both DFO officials and Rescue Centre personnel say the distressed sea otter should have been reported first.
“Once they’re removed from the wild it’s impossible to determine if the mother is alive and if they could have been reunited, or if bringing him in was the appropriate action,” said Akhurst.
Paul Cottrell, Marine Mammals Coordinator, Pacific Region, DFO, also says that touching or capturing wild marine mammals is illegal.
The sea otter was once extinct in Canada but has been successfully reintroduced in BC and now mainly live off Vancouver Island.
In 2009, the Canadian government listed sea otters as of Special Concern; major causes of death are predators, a lack of food, and environmental pollution.
A recent study found the energy needed to rear sea otter pups could also be causing the deaths of more adult females, and more cases of pup abandonment, says the release.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is a hospital for sick, injured or orphaned marine mammals and is the only one of its kind in Canada.
This year, the centre has been busy; as well as the sea otter pup, its volunteers and staff have helped and cared for a California sea lion, a Steller sea lion pup, and 29 harbour seals.
If you see a stranded marine mammal, do not approach it and keep pets away. Call the centre at 604.258.SEAL (7325) for immediate help.