It is a heartbreaking origin story that is worthy of a Hollywood movie.
On Sept. 9, a mother otter was carrying her newborn pup in her arms as she swam in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay. All of a sudden, the mom-and-pup pair was attacked by a group of orcas. Orcas do not traditionally eat otters, but overfishing and other environmental concerns have decreased the number of fish and birds available to them, putting mammals on the menu.
Hence, this hungry group of orcas targeted the mother otter and her newborn baby. The attack was so intense that at one point, one of the orca’s tails slapped the mother and baby out of the water. This separated the mom from her daughter.
The orcas lost interest in the little pup and instead targeted the mother. The mother shortly disappeared under the waves. This left the helpless otter pup alone and frightened, and her frantic calls were loud and desperate as she tried to find her mother. Otter pups often stay with their mother for a full year, and they aren’t fully independent and able to self-sustain until they are at least six months old.
Thankfully, the entire incident was witnessed by a fishing boat. And not just any fishing boat: a boat carrying a wildlife response expert from Alaska’s SeaLife Center (ASLC), who was with friends that also had previous experience rescuing otter pups. Natalie Hunter, a lab tech at ASLC, had no idea that her expertise would be needed on the recreational fishing trip in Homer, Alaska.
“It was weird to be on the other side of the wildlife response hotline. It wasn’t someone calling me to report an animal in need. It was the other way around,” said Hunter in a post about the incident on the ASLC’s website. “My brain was in wildlife response mode during the entire incident, thinking we, unfortunately, may have an otter pup rescue on our hands. It wasn’t until the entire event ended, the wild orcas had left the area, and the pup started crying out for its mother that I knew we had to think about the next move.”
This is the second time in a month that staff members at Alaska SeaLife Center have rescued an orphaned otter. Earlier in September, the group saved a baby otter that had been found by the side of a road in Kenai, an Alaskan town southwest of Anchorage. In that case, as in most rescues, they didn’t know the story behind the pup’s stranding.
Now, just weeks later, the friends who were out on a recreational fishing trip awaited permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to make contact with the pup. When they got the all-clear, the group brought the otter pup on board.
“Her cries were gurgly, and when we got her out of the water, she was soaked,” Hunter says on the ASLC’s website. “Her coat wasn’t repelling water and keeping her buoyant like it should have been.”
They quickly brought the pup in to the ASLC. You can see a video ASLC shared on social media of the baby being fed a bottle. (Warning: She’s so cute your screen may explode.)
We have admitted a second female northern sea otter pup to the ASLC Wildlife Response Program! The newborn pup was orphaned following an orca attack, incidentally witnessed by ASLC laboratory technician and wildlife response team member Natalie.
Read more: https://t.co/GKNlfdartA pic.twitter.com/8f1ewFC6YR
— Alaska SeaLife Center (@AlaskaSeaLife) September 18, 2023
When the pup was delivered to an exam room at the Alaska SeaLife Center, they discovered that the baby still had her umbilical cord attached. This means the little girl was only a day (or even mere hours) old. Although exhausted and hungry, she was otherwise unharmed.
The otter pup is now being cared for by the team at ASLC, and you can support their efforts and make a donation here.