A sea otter pup rescued Wednesday from Homer is now at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward but not for long, staff say.
Several people saw the roughly eight-pound female pup, between 6 and 8 weeks old, Wednesday on Kachemak Drive, near Mud Bay and the base of the Homer Spit. Multiple people called the SeaLife Center's stranded marine mammal hotline, said the center's president, Tara Riemer Jones.
"This is the first time I remember getting a call with an otter actually in the road. Usually they're on the beach," Jones said.
The normal protocol is to leave a pup alone while looking for its mother but someone moved the one found Wednesday out of the road, Jones said. Volunteers spent about 45 minutes looking and listening for the pup's mother around the spit and surrounding area, with no luck, she said. Waves as tall as 6 feet were crashing on the beach, Jones said. It's unclear what happened to the mother, she said.
"We really don't know," Jones said. "It was a rough surf day but there really are so many options."
Wild animal rescuers run the risk of alienating a pup from its mother, Jones said. Like a baby bird handled by humans, a baby sea otter might not be accepted by its mother again with the scent of would-be rescuers on it. A mother otter also teaches her pups to groom their fur, an important lesson because an otter's fur, if groomed properly, keeps it warm in frigid water. That lesson can't be taught by a human, Jones said.
"Once we bring in a sea otter of this age, we know we're not going to be able to release it back into the wild," Jones said.
With authorization from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the volunteers started to care for the pup, Jones said. They put her in a pet carrier, one big enough for a small dog, and drove to Soldotna to meet with SeaLife Center staff, who examined the pup and drove her on to Seward.
The pup -- unnamed so far -- appears to be doing well in an enclosure called the "I-Sea-U," Jones said. She is consuming 35 percent of her body weight of a special formula each day, according to Tim Lebling, the center's stranding coordinator and a veterinary technician.
"Her appearance so far is quite good and she's feeding quite well," Jones said. "Her behavior would make you believe she's in good health. But we can't always tell in the first couple days."
Staff are watching the pup around the clock, Jones said. During that time, she is groomed and fed often and is playing with toys, which the center staff call "enrichment items."
"It's similar to a human baby. You want them to be thinking about things, paying attention to things," Jones said. "She seemed very alert ... She was put in a small pool of water and was active in the water, you know, turning around."
The SeaLife Center staff anticipate the pup leaving Seward soon for a zoo or aquarium in the Lower 48. She could be on her way south by the end of October, Jones said. For now, the pup remains behind a one-way window and viewable to the public.
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE