Wildlife responders in Alaska were confronted with an “unusually dramatic” rescue situation after an orphaned, newborn sea otter was saved after an orca attack.
The Sept. 9 attack was witnessed by Natalie Hunter, a laboratory technician and wildlife response team member at the Alaska SeaLife Center, the center said in a news release. Because Hunter saw the incident while on a recreational fishing trip, responders were aware of the full details, which the group said was “unique.” Some of the attack was even filmed by Hunter’s group, and the agency shared the video online.
Hunter’s group, which included friends with wildlife response experience, first spotted two wild orcas, and then a “commotion” occurred when the orcas attacked a floating otter. The otter did not try to escape, and the group heard “characteristic young otter calls” that made them realize the otter was carrying a pup. “Multiple” attacks from the orcas targeted the otters, and Hunter’s group saw “both the mother otter and the pup burst out of the water after an impressive tail slap from one of the orcas.” The two otters were separated, and the orcas turned their attention to the mother. The attacks continued, and “eventually, the mother did not resurface.”
“Persistent cries from the water indicated that the pup” had indeed survived the attack, though. Hunter’s group waited to make sure that the orcas were gone and the mother otter wasn’t resurfacing. Once some time had passed, they called the agency’s wildlife response hotline and waited for information about how to help the otter pup.
“My brain was in wildlife response mode during the entire incident, thinking we, unfortunately, may have an otter pup rescue on our hands,” Hunter said in the agency’s news release. “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.”
Once the wildlife center received permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to respond to the otter pup, the group carefully pulled the animal out of the water and onto their boat, then brought her back to shore.
“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.”
A response team from the wildlife center met the group and the otter halfway between Homer, where they had been in the water, and Seward, where the wildlife center is located. The response team immediately brought the pup back to the center, where it was found that the animal was fatigued, hungry, and only a day old — possibly less.
The pup is now receiving round-the-clock care at the Alaska SeaLife Center, where it is the second orphaned otter pup admitted in less than a week. The 24/7 care is meant to resemble the “constant care and attention” such otter pups receive from their mothers.
Photos and videos from the wildlife center show the otter being held in a towel, bottle-fed by employees, and kept warm with a hair dryer.