A 5-week-old sea otter pup rescued along the Central California coast will get a second chance at life in Chicago after getting fattened up at Monterey Bay Aquarium, experts announced Tuesday.
After receiving around-the-clock care at the aquarium for four weeks, "Pup 681" -- a member of the threatened Southern Sea otter species -- was shipped to the Shedd's Abbott Oceanarium in Chicago for continued rehabilitation.
"Pup 681's situation was urgent," said Tim Binder, Shedd's vice president of animal collections. "As an organization dedicated to marine mammal care and conservation, we were perfectly positioned to ensure that this little pup had a home, providing the long-term care needed to survive."
Now weighing in at 6 pounds, the 22.6-inch-long pup's appearance is far different from several weeks ago, when it weighed slightly more than 2 pounds.
The female pup might not have been found if it wasn't for a beachgoer taking an evening stroll Sept. 30 along Coastways Beach between Santa Cruz and San Mateo.
The beachgoer heard the newborn pup crying and notified marine officials. But rescuers at the time couldn't reach the pup because it was in a remote location and darkness was falling. The following morning, Pup 681 was rescued and taken to Monterey Bay Aquarium, where experts quickly set about fattening her up given that she had been separated from her mother for an estimated least 16 hours or more.
In Chicago, six to eight animal-care experts will continue monitoring the pup round-the-clock.
Experts are hoping she develops grooming, feeding, temperature regulating and foraging behaviors -- all necessary to survive at sea.
"It truly takes a village to rehabilitate a young sea otter," Binder said in a statement. "Our animal care team is teaching the pup how to be an otter."
Southern Sea otter populations in California have slowly recovered over the years. This year, the population is at 2,944, up from 2,939 in 2013, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
To be removed from the threatened species list, the population would need to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years, according to the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.