"Her cries were gurgly, and when we got her out of the water, she was soaked," one of the pup's rescuers recalled of the baby otter's condition
An otter pup is recovering after a deadly orca whale encounter that left the little animal without a mother.
The Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) said in a news release that one of its members — wildlife response team member and laboratory technician Natalie Hunter — along with others, were out on a recreational fishing trip in Homer, Alaska, on Sept. 9 when they witnessed an "unusually dramatic" orca attack on a mother and baby otter.
Hunter recalled in the release that the group had spotted several transient orcas while on the water and shut off the motor on their boat to watch them. What the orcas did next took them by surprise— the whales began to target a nearby otter floating in the water who "did not attempt to dive away from the whales."
The group on the boat realized the female otter was carrying a pup when they heard "young otter calls" from the water. Unfortunately, the group of onlookers did not have enough time to prevent the attack.
The orcas attacked the otter duo with a tail slap, separating the two, after which the whales continued to hit the mother otter, who did not resurface from the water.
The otter pup remained in the water throughout the ordeal. The group who witnessed the deadly attack captured portions of the incident on video, including the otter pup floating alone in the ocean after the attack. One of the members of the group can be heard saying in the video, which ASLC shared portions of on Youtube, that the pup didn’t look well and was “sucking up water.”
After ensuring that the orcas weren’t coming back for the baby animal, Hunter and the fishing group, which consisted of multiple U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) members, went to work saving the otter pup. Hunter said she called the ASLC Wildlife Response Hotline for direction on what to do.
“It was weird to be on the other side of the wildlife response hotline. It wasn’t someone calling me to report an animal in need. It was the other way around,” said Hunter, per the release.
“My brain was in wildlife response mode during the entire incident, thinking we, unfortunately, may have an otter pup rescue on our hands,” she added. “It wasn’t until the entire event ended, the wild orcas had left the area, and the pup started crying out for its mother that I knew we had to think about the next move.”
After the ASLC got permission to respond to the pup, Hunter said the group carefully got the otter out of the water and onto the boat.
"Her cries were gurgly, and when we got her out of the water, she was soaked," Hunter said. "Her coat wasn't repelling water and keeping her buoyant like it should have been."
The pup was eventually transported to the ASLC Center, where wildlife experts evaluated her and determined that the tiny otter was exhausted and hungry but "otherwise in good health." They also noted that the pup had a fresh umbilical cord, meaning she was likely a day or a couple of hours old when the attack occurred.
The ASLC noted that when they usually take in lost or abandoned otter pups, they often don't know how the baby animals got separated from their mothers. In the case of this pup, however, the circumstances were "particularly unique."
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"Very rarely do we know how a wildlife response patient got to the location and the condition it was found in," said Jane Belovarac, an ASLC wildlife response curator. "For most reported cases of an abandoned seal or otter pup, we have the reporter watch for a length of time to see if the mother returns. In this rare case, we know exactly what happened to this newborn pup."
The ASLC said this was the second orphaned otter pup admitted to the center in less than a week and that the two baby otters were receiving 24/7 care from the center's team.
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