Newborn otter recovering in Seward after encounter with orcas witnessed by wildlife rescuer

A newborn sea otter rescued earlier this month after it survived an apparent orca attack near Homer is recovering in Seward, according to the Alaska SeaLife Center.

The otter pup, a female, is receiving constant care and was eating well and appeared healthy on Monday, said Kaiti Grant, a spokeswoman for the center.

The pup arrived at the center with an umbilical cord still attached, meaning the animal was possibly just hours old when orphaned, according to an update the center posted Monday. Northern sea otters typically remain with their mothers until they’re three to six months old.

It’s rare that SeaLife Center rescuers get specific information about an animal stranding.

But in this case, one of the people who witnessed the encounter was Natalie Hunter, a lab technician who works on a wildlife response team at the center, according to the update.

“It was just layers upon layers of the right place at the right time to be able to help this pup,” Grant said.

Hunter was fishing with friends Sept. 9 when the group saw two orcas approach and appear to attack an adult otter carrying the pup, the update said. The orcas approached the otters multiple times and Hunter said she saw the mother and pup burst out of the water after one of the whales slapped their tail. The orcas focused on the adult otter and eventually left the area after the animal didn’t resurface.

Otter Pup Patient Admitted After Orca Attack

‼️ EXTRAORDINARY otter pup patient admit ‼️ We have admitted a second female northern sea otter pup from Homer, AK to the ASLC Wildlife Response Program, and her story is incredible. The newborn pup was orphaned following an orca attack, incidentally witnessed by ASLC laboratory technician and wildlife response team member Natalie.

Posted by Alaska SeaLife Center on Monday, September 18, 2023

Hunter and her group heard cries from the water and called the SeaLife Center’s wildlife response hotline, according to the update. Two of her friends onboard also had wildlife response experience and once the SeaLife Center received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the group got the newborn otter out of the water and brought it on the boat, the center said. The group, with the pup, met a team from the SeaLife Center halfway between Seward and Homer.

The pup’s coat was saturated with water and it probably wouldn’t have been able to stay afloat much longer, said Grant. Mothers meticulously groom pups to make sure their coat stays dry, which allows them to float, she said.

The pup was not injured and was initially described by staff as tired and hungry. The animal will stay at the center until it can find a permanent home at an aquarium, Nancy Deel, a center spokeswoman, said Monday. The pup won’t be able to be released back to the wild because of its young age at the time of rescue, Deel said.

The center is caring for one other otter pup currently, Grant said. The pup was rescued early this month in Kenai.

The SeaLife Center is a nonprofit research institution and public aquarium in Seward. The center is the only institution authorized to rehabilitate stranded marine mammals in Alaska.

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Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter focusing on breaking news and public safety. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.