Onlookers visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Saturday got a rare glimpse of a pregnant sea otter giving birth to a pup after she perched atop a rock to escape rough seas caused by El Niño storms.
Aquarium workers filmed the incredible birth by chance after the female sea otter swam from the ocean into the Great Tide Pool, a sheltered body of water that rests at the edge of the facility.
After giving birth, the mother pulled the pup close to her chest and began a grooming regimen to keep it warm. Sea otter pups have a thick layer of fur that makes them buoyant, kind of like a "floating cork," facility spokeswoman Angela Hains said.
"Sea otter scientists working for decades on research … had never seen anything like this before," she said.
The wild sea otter remained in the pool caring for her new pup until Monday, then swam out to sea, Hains said. But the mother and her pup returned later that day.
It is the second time since December that a pregnant sea otter has used the pool to deliver a pup.
Once nearly extinct, sea otters are a crucial part of Monterey Bay's ecosystems. Otters consume sea urchins and other marine life, which allows the bay's kelp forests and eel grass at Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Watsonville to thrive.
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