Rescuers Use Recorded Cries to Reunite a Sea Otter Pup with Mom

As a rainstorm drenched central California earlier this month, a commercial fisherman discovered a two-day-old sea otter pup that had apparently been swept away from her mother in the strong surf.

The fisherman contacted the Morro Bay Harbor Patrol, which contacted the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). The CDFW’s senior environmental scientist, Mike Harris, took off on a rescue mission in a patrol boat with Harbor Patrol officials and trained responders from the Marine Mammal Center (MMC), a nonprofit rescue and rehabilitation organization.

The rescuers were fortunately able to find the sea otter pup. The next crucial step was to reunite her ASAP with her mother. To facilitate this, the team came up with a clever idea: they recorded the baby’s cries and then amplified them using a Bluetooth speaker.

“Every otter we saw, we’d stop, they’d see us and we’d get some kind of reaction for the vocals,” Harris told the San Luis Obispo Tribune. But none of them appeared to be the baby’s mom, so the rescuers continued on. After an hour or so of searching, they approached an area near a pier where sea otters like to congregate, about a mile away from where the pup had drifted.

Bingo. “Within a minute, we started to see a female showing some interest in the vocals and quite quickly started vocalizing back and approaching the boat,” Harris told the Tribune.

The best way to safely reunite the pup with her mother would have been to place her in the water and then back up the boat. This wasn’t possible, however, because the boat was in a narrow space between the pier and docked boats. “We would’ve had to kind of back out of there in a way that we weren’t making a greater distance from the mom,” Harris told the Tribune. “We were concerned we would spook her.”

Another way was to put the pup in a net and lower her into the ocean, but Harris said that could have also easily frightened the mother.

So, Harris and the rescuers went with a third option: They tossed the pup toward her mother. Harris had a net ready, just in case there was a problem. While some people have expressed concern about the pup being thrown into the ocean, baby sea otters have natal pelage “which is essentially a life jacket,” Harris told the Tribune. “They can’t dive until they shed that natal fur at about 12 weeks of age.”

At first the mother appeared to be spooked and dove underwater, but she soon resurfaced. As the rescuers cheered, she “quickly cradled the pup and swam back to a group of otters,” the MMC reported in a Facebook post.

“It was a really great moment,” Aliah Meza, an operations assistant at the MMC who was among the rescuers, told KEYT.

This heartwarming reunion was captured in two videos. (Tissue alert!)

Every year, several sea otter pups—who depend on their mothers for survival—have to be rescued, Harris told the Tribune. “Storm events can cause these separations,” he said. “The mom has to forage for food, so she dives and the current is strong, or the wind is strong, and that can put the floating pup quite a distance from mom.”

Another cause of these separations is people in kayaks or on the beach getting too close to the sea otters, MMC operation manager Diana Kramer told KEYT. This is yet another reason why it’s so important for people to keep their distance from wildlife.

Another Sea Otter Mother-Pup Reunion in 2016

As special as this reunion was, it wasn’t the first time that Harris and other rescuers have helped reunite a lost sea otter pup with her mother.

In what was called a “rare rescue” in May 2016, Harris, along with MMC veterinarian Dr. Heather Harris and a group of volunteers, responded to a call about a pup alone in Morro Bay.

They rescued the pup and took her around the bay, approaching adult sea otters in hopes that one of them would recognize the baby’s cries.

One of the sea otters responded. This pup, like the one rescued this month, was tossed to her mom. And like the reunion this month, the one three years ago was also captured on a heartwarming video.

If you ever happen to find a baby sea otter in California, call the Marine Mammal Center’s 24-hour hotline at 415-289-SEAL (7325).

To find out more about the Marine Mammal Center and how to help with its rescue efforts, visit its website.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

121 comments

Benjamin S
Benjamin Shaw18 days ago

great

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RosemaryRannes R
Rosemary Rannes28 days ago

Laura this is the most awesome story! Thanks, now i can go to sleep knowing there are more caring people in this world of ours than previously thought!

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Leo C
Leo Cabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Kathleen England
Kathleen Englandabout a month ago

Story with a great ending! Thank you to all concerned.

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Yvonne T
Yvonne Tabout a month ago

awwww....so wonderfull!!!!

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Virgene L
Virgene Labout a month ago

By the way, just a reminder, there are way more good people out there than bad. It is nice to see the good ones in the news too!

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Virgene L
Virgene Labout a month ago

Good news! What a reunion. These mothers are awesome. Thanks to all of you.

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Anette S
Anette Sabout a month ago

Well done!

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Elisabeth H
Elisabeth Habout a month ago

beautiful, tyfs

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Debbie C
Debbie Croweabout a month ago

Awwww..... I'm so glad you helped find the baby's mama!! Thank you!!

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