The Aquarium of the Pacific is sending one of its sea otters to a laboratory in Santa Cruz and will get a visit from one the lab's otters in exchange.
The Aquarium has announced that one of its Southern sea otters, Charlie, is going north to the Long Marine Laboratory to be a subject in a study of otters' hearing underwater. To take Charlie's place, the Long lab, which is at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is sending it's otter, Odin, to Long Beach, where he will join the others in the Aquarium's Sea Otter Habitat after a quarantine period.
Odin was set to participate in the auditory study until it was discovered that he has some hearing loss; he is otherwise healthy and is well-trained, the Aquarium says. The study is being conducted by researchers at the Pinniped Cognition & Sensory Systems Laboratory and the exchange will last about a year.
Here's how the Aquarium describes Odin and the study:
He's an adult male otter born in the wild in 2003 and found stranded when he was just a few weeks old. He later was released into the wild, but after being returned for rehabilitation in 2008, Odin was determined to be non-releasable. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service placed Odin at the Long Marine Lab as a subject for studies of sea otter sensory biology.
The Long lab began its research of southern sea otters in 2007 in partnership with the Monterey Bay Aquarium. According to Long lab researchers, little is known about the sensory biology of sea otters and some of the study's aims include a better understanding of how otters’ have evolved and behave, and how evolution has affected marine mammals' perception underwater. It's also hoped that results will help the management of coastal habitats critical to sea mammals' survival.
The Long Marine Lab’s work focuses on pinnipeds, or marine mammals with flippers, such as seals and sea lions. Its other resident animals include Rio the California sea lion, Sprouts the harbor seal, and Burnyce the northern elephant seal.
“Because sea otters are protected, there are very strict guidelines for their housing and care," said the Aquarium of the Pacific's Perry Hampton, its vice president of husbandry, in a post on its website. "Charlie will be very well cared for during his visit to the Long Marine Lab, and we are pleased that his participation in this study will help us better understand sea otters.” (For more on the research, see http://www.pinnipedlab.org/)
Charlie has made the news before as the first sea otter to give a voluntary blood draw. The Aquarium says that he was trained to allow its veterinarian to take blood samples without causing undue stress to the otter (or staff). Other otters have to be physically restrained for the procedure, but Charlie stays perfectly calm, the Aquarium says, and he's become a textbook case for this kind of training.