A very pregnant wild sea otter swam into the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Great Tide Pool on Sunday morning, and popped out a little slime-covered pup.
While otters can give birth by land or by sea, this momma otter decided to crawl onto a rock and deliver her pup in the tide pool—the place where water flows from the aquarium back into Monterey Bay. Once there, she pushed. What happened next can be seen in the video above. When the little otter starts to emerge, she reaches down and yanks the pup all the way out, and begins to groom it. Grooming warms the pup and keeps its fur clean, fluffy, and buoyant. The Monterey Bay Aquarium managed to catch the birth on film, and streamed it on Periscope.
Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) like this one have sheltered in the aquarium’s tide pool during or immediately after giving birth twice before. But this is the first time that people have been able to watch. More importantly, these births are encouraging signs that the sea otter population is growing, after being decimated by the fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Aquarium officials can’t tell what sex the pup is—it’s too fluffy for them to get a clear view—but they say the mother and pup seem to be doing well. And mom’s job isn’t done yet: after gestating the pup for four to six months before giving birth, she’ll now have to keep an eye on it for up to another year.. She’ll nurse it for the first month, before eventually introducing it to solid foods like crabs, snails, and sea urchins. And she’s doing all of this by herself. Female otters and their pups usually congregate in groups called rafts, but males live in groups of their own, or wander from group to group—and they don’t stick around long after mating.
Right now, this little otter is an only child. Although otter moms might occasionally give birth to multiples, they can only care for one pup each year—so in the case of twins, one is typically abandoned.
This otter and her pup are completely wild—they are not one of the aquarium’s otters, and have not been tagged by the aquarium’s Sea Otter Program. So, once they swim away, this could be the last we see of them.