Oiled Sea Otter Rehabilitation Course


As mentioned earlier, the female sea otter spends up to 30% of her time grooming the pup’s fur to keep it clean and water repellent. For orphaned pups in the rehabilitation center, this labor intensive but important activity is provided by nursery personnel who assume the role of surrogate mothers. It is important to remember that each pup may behave differently. The surrogate mother should be aware of the individual needs of each pup and ensure that it receives proper care. After each feeding, urination, and defecation (or at least three times per day), the pup’s fur should be cleaned with seawater. The pup’s hind flippers can be placed in cool water after a feeding to stimulate urination and defecation. This prevents the pup from fouling its fur while it sleeps. The fur is first dried with clean cotton towels and then brushed with a nylon bristle brush (3/4 inch) and a flea comb so that it is free of tangles and has maximum loft. This activity will require about thirty minutes. Pups can be groomed while they sleep, allowing the surrogate mother to thoroughly detangle matted fur. Keeping the fur clean and well brushed is essential, as fur is difficult to restore once it has become severely matted. Cleaning and brushing the fur is especially important around the perianal area to prevent dermatitis. As the pup matures, it will begin grooming itself, thereby relieving the nursery personnel of this responsibility.

Nursery facilities for the care of sea otter pups are described in Chapter 12. Only designated personnel should be allowed in the nursery. The room should be well ventilated, quiet, and maintained at 15°C (60°F). A water bed maintained at room temperature is an ideal place for young pups to maintain their body temperature, and it is similar to floating on the surface of the sea. The nursery should also include a shallow saltwater pool (10 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet deep) for young pups to develop swimming skills. The nursery should be visually and acoustically isolated from the activities of the rehabilitation center. Working surfaces should be disinfected twice daily with Nolvosan solution (2 tbs/ gal). Harsh disinfectants and cleansers should be avoided because of their harmful effects on otter fur. Preventing disease transmission from domestic animals to sea otter pups is a top priority. Personnel should wear clean coveralls in the nursery and disinfect their hands regularly. Shoes should be changed or washed in a disinfectant foot bath before entering the nursery.

Pups should be introduced to outdoor pools as soon as they can swim (age three to four weeks), especially during sunny days. An otter pup can be permanently transferred to an outdoor pool when it is able to groom and feed itself. This usually occurs around the age of three months. However, pups at this age are still dependent on their surrogate mothers and should be closely watched. Pups are ready to be left alone at night at age five to six months. To ensure proper identification, all pups should have identification tags attached to the hind flippers when they are ready to leave the nursery.