Memories of Mae
Many Aquarium staff, volunteers and visitors have fond memories of Mae, who died November 17 at age 11—but none more than the team who took care of her during her 11 years on exhibit. Here are some highlights:
Cecelia Azhderian, senior sea otter aquarist:
- Mae had an ornery and feisty personality along with a short fuse, so you only had about two chances to get her to cooperate. Otherwise, she was just done and made it clear she wasn’t happy with you by making direct eye contact and sticking her tongue out.
- She especially loved to take apart puzzle toys that we made for her. The more intricate and complicated the toy, the more interested she was in dismantling it. We were challenged with coming up with new enrichment ideas that would engage her for a long time. The process was mentally stimulating for both of us.
- In quintessential otter style, Mae was quite destructive at times and would exploit any weakness she found in the exhibit. She was the first to dig at a weak spot she found in the cement rockwork, or pull up an edge of a window seal, or find a loose screw somewhere, or stuff toys in a hole that she discovered or dug herself. She used “tools” to do so, such as toys we gave her or shells that she smuggled inside her “pockets” from the back holding areas.
- We joked that Mae would “tag” the exhibit windows using little pieces of rock or shell she hid in her “pockets,” making scratches in n up and down motion that ironically looked like an “M.”
Hannah Ban-Weiss, sea otter aquarist:
- One of my most favorite things about Mae was when she was falling asleep, she would suck on her paw.
Michelle Jeffries, former curator of marine mammals:
- Mae spent most of her time sleeping in the “spa” (the deck entrance to an underwater tunnel). It was like her own room, and she got very grumpy when others tried to squeeze inside. Mae would very determinedly drag the “carwash kelp” into the spa with her, which was quite an effort. She would then wrap herself in the kelp and sleep, with only a tiny part of her dry-fuzzy head poking out of the jumble.
Laura McKinnon, former sea otter aquarist:
- The first time Betty White visited the exhibit, Mae was obsessed with Betty’s blue shoes. She kept wanting to sniff them.
- I will always remember the “look” when you would toss a sinking object into the water and ask her to “get.” Sometimes she wouldn’t feel like retrieving, and would look underwater at the object with only one eye then back at you like, “um, yeah, I’m not going to get that, please give me my shrimp now.”
Mika Yoshida, former sea otter aquarist:
- One of my favorite behaviors to do with Mae was called “frisk,” in which the trainer would ask Mae to stand on her hind paws, with her front paws resting on a rock or the back wall of the exhibit. This allowed the trainer to run her hands up Mae’s back, sides and underneath her arms to check her “pockets.” It was one of the coolest/easiest ways to do a complete body check, although not one that she allowed everyone to do.
- Mae was a true Ice Queen, as she loved to crunch, sleep on, rub on and generally enjoy ice to the fullest!
- Mae was not very good at stunning live crabs, and would sometimes get pinched. That never stopped her from enjoying a good crab, however!
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