Showing posts tagged as "sea otter"
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!
What did Mae look like when she was rescued as a two-day-old sea otter pup near Santa Cruz in 2001? Have a look! She was raised by our Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) team and joined our exhibit a few months later.
Watch Mae, who passed away last weekend, play with sea otter pup Kit. We’ll miss her!
Mae, First Otter to Raise a Pup on Exhibit, Dies
We’re sad to report that Mae, an 11-year-old female sea otter who had been part of our sea otter exhibit since she was eight months old, died over the weekend from a seizure disorder whose cause is still unknown. Her seizures began suddenly just a few days before her death on Saturday afternoon, November 17.
Mae was rescued as a two-day-old pup near Santa Cruz in April 2001, and raised by our Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program team. She joined the sea otter exhibit in December 2001 when it became clear that she was not acquiring the skills she needed to be returned to the wild. She was the first animal we’d added to the exhibit since 1986 – starting a new generation of exhibit animals as our original sea otters reached the end of their lives.
That wasn’t Mae’s only “first” with us. In 2010, she became the first surrogate mother otter to raise an orphaned pup on exhibit at the aquarium. Her pup, Kit, is now living at SeaWorld San Diego. Mae served as a companion animal to several otters as part of the SORAC program.
Her name – that of a truck-stop waitress with a screeching voice in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – was chosen in another first-ever process. It was selected for her by the public in an online poll.
Mae, nicknamed “Mayhem” by her caretakers, was a vocal and feisty sea otter who would make direct eye contact with and stick her tongue out at trainers when displeased, according to staff who worked with her. She was also an enthusiastic partner in training sessions, said Chris DeAngelo, associate curator of marine mammals.
“Mae definitely knew the most behaviors of any of our otters and was wonderful to teach new behaviors,” Chris said. “She was one of the first animals that new trainers learned to work with because she was very consistent and good with dealing with ‘trainer errors.’ We’ll all miss her terribly.”
Chris and the sea otter staff also called Mae “the monkey” because she would hold objects like ice molds and toys with her tail, leaving her paws open to accept whatever came next. While none of the other adult otters displayed this behavior, it was picked up by some of the pups Mae raised.
Senior Sea Otter Aquarist Cecelia Azhderian appreciated Mae’s playfulness.
“She loved big buckets,” Cecelia said “She could hardly wait for them to be filled with water before she’d get inside, even though she didn’t like the water hose, which she’d attack it if it came too close.”
Our sea otter exhibit is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in mid-March. Exhibit otters Rosa and Abby and are being housed behind the scenes.
Did you know that we’re the only facility to rescue and care for the southern sea otter?
Life in the slough—it’s a nice place to be….
Crab. It’s what’s for dinner. We’d love to know: what’s your favorite otter-viewing experience?
Having a hard time getting through this Halloween hump day? We’re here for you. You can make it!
Why are we so happy? It’s the 40th anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the landmark 1972 conservation law that helps sea otters, polar bears, walruses, and manatees – as well as the ocean ecosystems that support them.
In the spirit of the election season, you recently cast more than 800 votes for your favorite Aquarium animal on Facebook. No debate or recount required: the overwhelming winner was…the sea otter!