3. Otterly Awesome Rescues


There’s Hardy anything cuter than our sea otters here at the Aquarium! Delve into the special rescue stories that brought all of our sea otters to the aquarium. We will discover the who’s, why’s, and how’s of rescuing this iconic “keystone” species, and explore their important role in the ocean ecosystem.

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Photo: Hardy at our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre a few days after his rescue.

In our third JBC session this season, we explore the importance of our sea otters in the natural environment, and how ours came to live at the aquarium. We also look at other rescue stories from our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, and take on the role of the Department of Fisheries in deciding whether or not these animals should be deemed releasable or not!

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Photo: Our Marine Mammal Rescue team cares for the harbor porpoise, Levi.

What did we do today?

  • Got hands on with some sea otter props, including a pelt, a sea otter skull, and two species that sea otters love to eat - sea urchins and abalone.
  • Created a sea otter food web, and brainstormed the effects on the food web when sea otters are removed. We then linked this to the fur trade, when sea otter fur was so prized that otters were hunted to extinction along BC's coast.

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Photo: Illustration of the effects of removing sea otters from the food web.

  • Made some sea otter observations, using our fact sheets to distinguish between our six sea otters.
  • Learned about the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, and exactly what they do at our offsite hospital.
  • Took on the role of the Department of Fisheries, reviewing case studies of various rescue stories and trying to decide if the animals should be deemed releasable or not based on the DFO guidelines.

Questions to ask your Jr. Biologist

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From left to right: Katmai, Tanu, Kunik, Mak, Rialto, and Hardy

  1. What are some of the distinguishing features of our sea otters? (Tanu – most blonde, swims on back, Katmai – some blonde, mischievous, Mak – pronounced sternum, whiskers turn up on right side, Kunik – female, narrow face, playful, Rialto – male, broader face, bump on stomach where reproductive organs are, Hardy – smallest, some blonde, vocalizes)
  2. What happened to the food web when sea otters were removed? What is a keystone species? (the entire food web was disrupted, keystone species: a species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically)
  3. What kind of animals does the marine mammal rescue program accept? (any marine mammal – harbour seals, Steller sea lions, northern fur seals, northern elephant seals, sea otters, some cetaceans, etc., have also been involved in rescue of sea turtles)
  4. What dangers do marine mammals face? (oil spills, encounters with boats, entanglement in fishing gear, beaching, illness, pollution, disability, abandonment)
  5. Give examples of the questions the Department of Fisheries asks when trying to decide if an animal is releasable or not. (length of time in human care, is it habituated to people/does it associate food with people, how old when rescued, what was wrong with it, has it proven itself to be able to catch live fish?)

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Photos: Our MMR team releasing a harbour seal. Dr. Marty (our head veterinarian) checks up on Flash Gordon.

See your Jr. Biologists in action here!

Do you have questions for Club Volunteers or our Coordinator, Hailey? Ask away on our Discussion Board!


Do a project on one of the many, many, MANY rescued and released marine animals and present it to your class or school. A lot of people don’t understand the entire process, and how they are deemed releasable!

Donate to our Marine Mammal Rescue Centre – all of the animals that come and go through the revolving doors of the animal hospital require a lot of medicine, food, and care, which can get very expensive!

Learning Objectives

Identify the past and current threats to sea otter populations, and personal actions that could help with sea otter conservation and protection.

Construct a sea otter food web, and evaluate the impacts of this keystone species.

Explain the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre procedures and purpose, and compare rescue stories with the Department of Fisheries guidelines to determine which animals should be released.

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