Shedd Aquarium, Youtube
Shedd Aquarium, Youtube

What Happens To Stranded Sea Otter Pups?

Shedd Aquarium, Youtube
Shedd Aquarium, Youtube

If you frequent the Internet, you've probably seen pictures or videos of an adorably fluffy baby sea otter popping up all over the place. (And if you haven't, do yourself a favor and check her out. But then come back here.) Pup 681, as she's known, was rescued after being found alone at just a week old on the California coast, and now lives at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium. But this isn't the first time an orphaned pup has had humans come to her aid. We talked to Karl Mayer, Animal Care Coordinator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, about the procedure for responding to live stranded southern sea otters and how Pup 681 ended up at Shedd.

Although they're not responsible for physically retrieving every animal, Monterey Bay Aquarium along with the Marine Mammal Center coordinates the response to reports of stranded sea otters. In that capacity, the Aquarium deals with 50 to 60 sea otters every year. Only about 20 to 30 percent are pups; the rest are sick or injured adults. If the injuries are treatable, or the illness curable, these adults will be cared for and re-released—but often humane euthanization is the only recourse. Here's what happens when the otter in need is a pup.

Option 1: Find Mom

The first step is look for mom. "We rarely actually know what the reason for the separation is and so the default is to assume that it was an inadvertent separation from mom and that there may be an opportunity to try to effect a reunite," Mayer explains. "When sea otter pups and moms are separated, they're both vocal, so if there’s a vocalizing adult somewhere off shore, and we find a vocal pup on the beach, if we can get the pup close enough to the mom, she’ll be bold in terms of their willingness to come pretty close to grab a pup."

About 10 percent of stranded pups are successfully reunited with their mothers, but the window to find mom is very small—after just a few hours, she will give up the search. When Pup 681 was first reported, night was already falling and so, unable to move her in the dark, Mayer's team decided to leave her on the beach overnight in the hopes that her mother would return. When that didn't happen, the team considered the next best course of action.

Option 2: Surrogacy

"Option number two would be to place it with our surrogacy program," Mayer says. "Our method for rearing stranded pups for release back into the wild includes pairing them with one of our permanent captive female sea otters on our exhibit." Although it's not where Pup 681 ended up, this program is worth a deeper look.

In 2001, Monterey Bay Aquarium rescued a pregnant female sea otter suffering from toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease with symptoms including neurological impairment and unsuccessful pregnancies. Shortly after her rescue, the female gave birth to a stillborn pup.

"Amazingly, just 24 hours after she had given birth to that pup, a two week old male stranded just right here in Monterey. And because of that fortuitous connection, we basically said, 'Hey, let’s try putting this pup right in,'" Mayer says. The female took to the pup right away and immediately began caring for him. In the past, the Aquarium staff had tried hand-rearing stranded pups, but they had little success re-releasing these animals because they were too bonded to humans.

"When you tried to put them out in the wild they would end up interacting with either divers or kayakers," Mayer says of these earlier attempts. "Eventually we would have to make the decision that this animal is either going to cause harm to somebody or the person is going to cause harm to the otter and they would wind up having to be brought back into captivity." But seeing the female act as a surrogate mother to the orphaned pup gave the team an idea for an entirely new procedure. "It opened this whole new realm of possibility of working with them, taking ourselves out of the equation as much as we could."

These days, pups don't immediately get handed over to the female otters for care. Unlike the original surrogate, which had carried a pregnancy to full term, the animals currently on exhibit are not hormonally primed to care for an infant—they're not lactating. So until the pup is 6 to 8 weeks old, the Aquarium staff is responsible for bottle feeding, introducing solid food, and teaching him or her rudimentary food foraging.

"We don’t necessarily know if the female is going to feed the pup," Mayer says. "That being said, among the behaviors that we typically see from the females that are in this role, that are the maternal behaviors, food sharing is often one of the first things that we see. The female will be diving down feeding and the pup will swim up and be curious about what the female is eating and that actually stimulates the female to offer food to the pup."

The rest of the care all sounds pretty cute, too. "The female will carry the pup around on her chest, groom the pup, and she’ll sleep with pups resting on her chest," Mayer says. "Actually, as the bond progresses, fairly frequently we’ll see the pup starting to attempt to nurse on the female."

Pups stay with their surrogate mothers until they're around six months old, which is the same age weaning would take place out in the wild. At that point, they're fitted with flipper tags and surgically-implanted abdominal transmitters that allow the Aquarium to track the success of these orphans. So far, the results are good. Since the program began, over 30 pups have been raised and released this way and, according to Mayer, "the survival rates of those pups and the reproductive success of female pups is essentially the same as for any all-wild counterparts."

Option 3: Other Aquariums

Monterey Bay Aquarium has five permanent female sea otters. During the several months of surrogacy, these females are kept behind the scenes—which means that to keep at least three otters on the exhibit at any one time, only two can be raising stranded pups. When Pup 681 was rescued, "essentially, the inn was full. We’ve already got two females with dependent pups," Mayer says.

Finding a home for Pup 681 could have been tricky: There are very few facilities in the United States prepared to care for sea otters. In captivity, a typical sea otter will eat about 20 percent of his or her body weight a day. With females growing to about 50 pounds and males reaching 60 to 70 pounds, that's a lot of seafood. And their diet isn't cheap; things like clams, shrimp, squid, crab, and mussels make housing a sea otter almost prohibitively expensive.

Fortunately, Shedd Aquarium stepped up and offered to raise and house Pup 681, and the rest is adorable Internet history. Watch her arrival to Shedd here:

IKEA Is Recalling Its New Dog Water Fountain Due to Suffocation Risk

In late 2017, IKEA released LURVIG, its first-ever line for pets, a collection that included beds, leashes, food bowls, and other staple products for dogs and cats. Unfortunately, one of those products is now being recalled over safety issues, according to Fast Company. If you own the LURVIG water dispenser, you should take it away from your pet immediately.

The automatic water fountain poses a suffocation hazard, the company announced in a recent statement. The retailer has received two reports of pets dying after getting their head stuck in it.

A water fountain for pets sits next to a bowl full of dog food.

The $8 water dispenser debuted in U.S. stores in October 2017 with the rest of its LURVIG line. Awkwardly enough, the product description included assurances of the product’s safety standards. It explained that “the LURVIG range was developed with the assistance of trained veterinarian Dr. Barbara Schäfer, who also works with product risk assessment at IKEA,” and went on to say that “the first thing to consider was safety: ‘Dogs will definitely chew on their toys and bring in dirt from their daily walks. Cats will definitely scratch on most surfaces and are sensitive to smell and texture. So safe, durable materials are very important.’”

It seems that smaller dogs are able to get their faces stuck in the dome-shaped plastic reservoir, which only appears to have one hole in it, at the bottom. As a result, dogs can suffocate if they can’t get out of it.

The product has been removed from IKEA’s website, and the retailer recommends that anyone who bought it stop using it and return it to the nearest IKEA store for a refund.

[h/t Fast Company]

10 Facts About the Portuguese Man O' War

Something a lot scarier than any Jersey Devil has been washing up on beaches in the Garden State lately: This month, the dangerous Portuguese Man O’ War—which has a potentially deadly sting—has been sighted in Cape May and Wildwood, New Jersey, which could lead to problems for beachgoers. Read on to learn more about these unusual creatures.


The Portuguese Man o’ War may look like a bloated jellyfish, but it’s actually a siphonophore—a bizarre group of animals that consist of colonies made up of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of genetically-identical individual creatures. A siphonophore starts out as a fertilized egg. But as it develops, it starts "budding" into distinct structures and organisms. These tiny organisms—called polyps or zooids—can’t survive on their own, so they merge together into a tentacled mass. They must cooperate as one in order to do things like travel and catch food.

Though the zooids within a Man O’ War are basically clones, they come in different shapes and serve different purposes [PDF]. Dactylozooids are long hunting tentacles built to ensnare prey; gastrozooids are smaller tentacles which digest the food; and gonozooids are dangling entities whose job is to facilitate reproduction. Every Man O’ War also has a pneumatophore, or “float”—an overgrown, bag-like polyp which acts as a giant gas bladder and sits at the top of the colony. Capable of expanding or contracting at will, it provides the Man O’ War with some buoyancy control. An expanded float also enables the colony to harness winds to move around.


A view of a bluebottle under water.

When we say “Portuguese Man O’ War,” we’re talking about Physalia physalis, the bizarre siphonophore that’s scaring New Jerseyans right now. Also known as the Atlantic Portuguese Man O’ War, it can be found in warmer parts of the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and of course, the Atlantic.

Another kind of siphonophore which regularly stings beachgoers is the so-called bluebottle, Physalia utriculus. It’s sometimes called the Indo-Pacific “Portuguese” Man O’ War and is restricted to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. It’s smaller than the Atlantic species and unlike its bigger counterpart—which has multiple hunting tentacles—it hunts with a single, elongated tentacle.


In the age of sailing, many European navies used tall warships loaded with cannons and propelled by three masts. British sailors took to calling this kind of vessel a “Man of War.”

What does that have to do with Physalia physalias? These colonies spend a lot of time floating at the water’s surface, and when the gas bladder is expanded, it looks—and acts—a bit like a sailboat, hence the “Man O’ War.” As for the Portuguese part, 19th century scientists proposed that sailors encountered it near the Portuguese island of Madeira, while modern etymologists tend to think that it looked like the Portuguese version of the ship.

Or at least that’s one explanation for the creature’s peculiar name. It’s also been suggested that Renaissance-era sailors thought the pneumatophores resembled the helmets worn by Portugal’s soldiers during the 16th century.


Two Portuguese Man o' War washed up on the beach with their tentacles stretched out.

At least, that’s the maximum length for the dactylozooids—which are normally around 30 feet long and use venom-spewing cells to deliver painful, neurotoxic stings. When a tentacle is detached from the rest of the colony, it might wash ashore somewhere or drift around for days on end until it decomposes. Be warned: Even a severed tentacle can sting you.


The odds of being killed by a Portuguese Man O’ War are slim. But just because deaths are rare doesn't mean you should touch one: On February 11, 2018, 204 people in Hollywood, Florida were treated for stings, which can lead to red welts on the skin, muscle cramps, elevated heart rates, and vomiting.

Still, the creatures can kill: One unlucky victim suffered a full cardiovascular collapse and died after getting too close to a Man O’ War in eastern Florida back in 1987. More recently, a woman swimming off Sardinia was stung by one and died of what was believed to be anaphylactic shock.


Given that tiny fish make up about 70 to 90 percent of the Man O’ War’s diet (it also eats shrimp and other crustaceans), Nomeus gronovii, a.k.a. the Portuguese Man O’ War Fish, is playing a dangerous game: It lives among the siphonophore's tentacles even though it's not immune to its stings, swimming nimbly between the stingers. Young fish eat planktons which wander under their hosts and, as they get older, will sometimes steal the Man O’ War’s prey—or nibble on its tentacles.


The Man O’ War has a long list of enemies. Loggerhead sea turtles and the bizarre-looking ocean sunfish are thick-skinned enough to eat them. There are also “blue dragon” sea slugs, which not only devour the Man O’ War but actively harvest and appropriate its toxins. After storing Man O’ War stinging cells in their own skins, the blue dragons can use it as a predator deterrent.


A pink-tinted Portuguese Man O' War with blue tentacles in the surf at a beach.

Although it’s translucent, the float is usually tinted with blue, pink, and/or purple hues. Beaches along the American Gulf Coast raise purple flags in order to let visitors know when groups of Man O’ War (or other potentially deadly sea creatures) are at large.


The Man O' War's gonozooids have sacs that house ovaries or testes—so each colony can therefore be considered “male” or “female.” Though marine biologists aren’t completely sure how the Man O’ War procreates, one theory is that the gonozooids release eggs and sperm into the open ocean, which become fertilized when they cross paths with floating eggs or sperm from other Man O’ War colonies. This “broadcast spawning” method of reproduction is also used by many species of coral, fan worms, sea anemone, and jellyfish.


The Man O’ War isn't always seen in isolation. Legions consisting of over 1000 colonies have been observed floating around together. Because they drift along on (somewhat) predictable winds and ocean currents, it’s possible to anticipate where and when a lot of the creatures will show up. For example, the Gulf Coast’s Man O’ War season arrives in the winter months.


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