MONTEREY – The Monterey Bay Aquarium celebrated one of its southern sea otter’s birthday Tuesday noting she has played a significant role in the aquarium’s Sea Otter Program as a successful surrogate mother.
Rosa, named after a character in John Steinbeck’s 1935 novel “Tortilla Flat,” turned 22 years old this month, and is the oldest otter in the aquarium’s exhibit. She has been one of the most productive surrogate mothers for stranded otter pups in the aquarium’s history.
The aquarium streamed Rosa’s birthday celebration live Tuesday afternoon on its Sea Otter Cam where the otters in the Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibit can usually be seen daily between 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
Rosa is one of five southern sea otters at the aquarium. She was discovered stranded between Sunset and Manresa State Beaches in southern Santa Cruz County in September 1999 as a four-week-old pup weighing about 5 pounds.
In April of 2000, she was released back into the wild spending nearly two years there until she began interacting with divers and climbing onto kayaks. Due to the potential risks to herself and people, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials deemed her non-releasable and she was brought back to the Monterey Bay Aquarium as a permanent resident in June 2002.
During her ensuing nearly two decades back at the aquarium, Rosa has put her maternal instincts to work where she has reared more pups than any other active surrogate mother on exhibit. At least one of the female pups Rosa reared has raised multiple offspring in the wild, contributing to the recovery of the threatened southern sea otter species on the Central Coast. Another one of the surrogate mother’s pups, 9-year-old Selka, who also resides at the aquarium, has proven herself to be a successful surrogate mother.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is home to non-releasable female southern sea otters who are part of the surrogacy program acting as mothers to rescued sea otter pups they raise as their own. The surrogate mothers teach the pups the skills needed to survive in the wild such as grooming and foraging preparing them for release back into the open.
From 2002 through 2016, the aquarium staff released 37 surrogate-reared pups in Elkhorn Slough. A recent scientific study found that these otters and their offspring account for more than half of Elkhorn Slough’s otter population growth over the 15-year period.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium says its surrogacy program pulls double duty in that not only do stranded pups get nursed to health and released into the wild, but the pups returned to the wild also keep their estuary habitat healthy and thriving.
Rosa has become an ambassador of her species and an integral part of the Sea Otter Program according to the Aquarium. The grand dame of the otter exhibit is one of the aquarium’s larger specimens and can be identified by her silvered head and white freckles. Rosa can often be seen resting on the water’s surface through the center window of the exhibit after feeding.
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