Kids and families love the Aquarium—especially our Wave Crash exhibit, which pumps about 600 gallons of water and “crashes” every 30 seconds. Watch out! It’s also one of our most popular photo opportunities. Care to share your own Wave Crash photos here?
New! Ocean Travelers Plastics Gallery in the Open Sea Wing
Our newest gallery uses art installations and sculptures to explore the impacts of marine debris on ocean wildlife like Laysan albatross, humpback whales and green sea turtles. The stunning artwork is made from everyday plastic items that frequently find their way into our waterways and into the oceanic food web.
In Honor of a Remarkable Rescued Otter
She was orphaned and found stranded, wedged in the rocks at the bottom of a cliff south of Carmel in March 1997. Rescued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter team, she was hand-raised by our staff and volunteers, and paired with other otters to “learn the ropes” before we returned her to the wild that summer.
As with all rescued sea otters, we hoped that Harmonie would survive and become a productive contributor to the recovery of California’s threatened sea otter population. Boy, was she ever!
Harmonie died in January, of infirmities and old age, after 15 in the wild. From her postmortem exam, it was clear that she had indeed successfully integrated back into the wild population.
She had been pregnant 10 times — and at the time of her death showed signs of recent mating. Her first pup, born in 2000, was the first documented birth to a sea otter that we had rescued as a pup and then returned to the wild. There have since been many more. (The photos above show Harmonie with her first-born pup, in Elkhorn Slough near Moss Landing.)
Although she was grizzled with age, had arthritis and ulcers, and carried a scarred-over pellet from a gun that someone had fired at her along the way, “We were all amazed by her beautiful teeth,” according to her death report.
“I spent several years following Harmonie after she was first released, watching her integrate back into the wild and rearing her first pup,” recalled Michelle Staedler, our sea otter research coordinator. “Once she lost her flipper tags, I’d always wondered — and had a hunch — that the silver-gray female in the slough was her. I’m happy to know that it was.”
We are saddened by Harmonie’s passing, and so glad that she contributed so much to the wild population.
Boy oh Boy! A Sea Otter Pup on Exhibit!
This fuzzy Valentine will certainly steal your heart. Say hello to a young male pup that joined our sea otter exhibit on February 14. At eight weeks old, he’s the youngest pup to date to join the exhibit. His hefty size – 15 pounds – is the result of a very healthy appetite since he came into our care at two weeks of age and weighing barely six pounds.
He was rescued on January 5 in Cayucos (San Luis Obispo County) by staff with the Marine Mammal Center. That same day, they transferred care of the pup into the capable hands of our Sea Otter Research and Conservation program as pup 572, which means he’s the 572nd sea otter to be admitted.
During the pup’s first exam we found a small laceration on his right shoulder, which suggests his mother was bitten by a white shark while this pup was on her chest. If that’s true, he’s the seventh stranded pup to come to us under similar circumstances in the past two years.
Now the pup is under the tutelage of Joy, who will teach him what a young otter needs to know. Joy’s our most experienced surrogate mother, with a brag book of 15 pups (572 is her 16th) – more than any other otter in our program.
Joy has cared for two other pups on exhibit. In 2010 she mentored pup 502 before that pup was transferred to her permanent home at Georgia Aquarium. In 2011 Joy raised pup 540 before she moved to her new home at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Washington.
Joy’s also the only available adult female to raise this pup, as her fellow surrogates and companion animals are busy behind the scenes with their own charges. We’ve received permission from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to prepare 572 for life in the public eye. He’s the fourth pup we’ll raise on exhibit, and the third who will eventually find a new home at another aquarium as an ambassador for wild sea otters.
For now he’ll keep his number and will eventually get a name from his new caretakers. Sea otters are intelligent animals that can understand and respond to many words and commands. Using a name helps greatly with training exercises, and it would confuse and frustrate pup 572 if we gave him one name and his new home another.
Be sure to come see him when you visit or watch him on our live Otter Cam. We’ll also post updates and images on our Facebook page. As in the past, we may move him behind the scenes with little notice if that’s in his best interests, so be sure to check if you’re planning a special trip.
looking at an aquarium
Toola, the “Most Important Animal” in the History of the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Program, Dies
The Monterey Bay Aquarium regrets to announce the death of Toola, a female sea otter who was arguably the most important animal in the 28-year history of the Aquarium’s pioneering Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. Toola died early March 3 in the Aquarium’s veterinary care center, of natural causes and infirmities of age.
She was the first rescued sea otter ever to raise pups that were successfully returned to the wild; and was the inspiration for state legislation that better protects sea otters.
Toola was about 15 or 16 years old when she died. She was rescued as a mature adult (5+ years of age) when she was found stranded on Pismo Beach on July 21, 2001. She suffered from neurological disorders, likely caused by infection of her brain by the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. The resulting seizure disorder required twice-daily anticonvulsant medication and prevented her release back into the wild.
But she quickly became a pioneer for the Aquarium – on exhibit and behind the scenes. Toola was the first otter ever to serve as a surrogate mother for stranded pups. She raised 13 pups over the years, including one that was weaned from her on Friday as her health declined. Of the 11 pups already released to the wild, at least 5 are still surviving – including the first animal she reared in 2001. Her pups have matured in the wild and gone on to give birth to 7 pups of their own, 5 of which have weaned successfully. Two more of her pups are still behind the scenes, on track for release later this year.
Toola’s most famous pup is the subject of a new feature film, Otter 501, which debuted in February at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.
On exhibit, Toola’s story of exposure to the toxoplasmosis parasite that can be carried by cats inspired then-California State Assemblymember (now Insurance Commissioner) Dave Jones to introduce legislation to better protect California’s threatened sea otter population. His bill, co-authored with current California Resources Secretary John Laird, became law in 2006. Among other provisions, it created the California Sea Otter Fund that has generated more than $1 million in voluntary taxpayer contributions to support research into disease and other threats facing sea otters in the wild.
“Toola was without question the most important animal in the history of our program,” said Andrew Johnson, manager of the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. “She showed us that captive otters could successfully raise orphaned pups for return to the wild. She inspired a critical piece of legislation that is helping protect sea otters. And she inspired millions of visitors to care more about sea otters. We will miss her.”
“I will argue that there is no other single sea otter that had a greater impact upon the sea otter species, the sea otter programs worldwide, and upon the interface between the sea otters’ scientific community and the public,” said Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray.
Although she was at the Aquarium for more than a decade, she remained a wild animal at heart, said Associate Curator of Mammals Christine DeAngelo – and a strong-willed one, too.
“It was clear to everyone on the sea otter exhibit team that Toola, not me, was really in charge,” DeAngelo said. “When she wanted to work on something in a training session, she’d give me a ‘look’ or vocalize and I’d immediately cave in and do whatever she wanted. Now that she’s passed, we’re in need of another ‘head trainer’ to run the place.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program has been studying and trying to save the threatened southern sea otter since 1984. With the support of its research, exhibit and policy teams, and the backing of donors and members, the Aquarium has rescued nearly 600 ill and injured otters, raises and releases stranded pups, and has placed non-releasable animals on exhibit in Monterey and at other accredited Aquariums across North America.
The research team plays a key role in field studies of sea otters in California, Alaska and Russia. The Aquarium also works on behalf of policies at the state and federal level that will advance the recovery of sea otter populations.
Every five years since we opened in 1984, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The just-completed process includes several days of exhaustive on-site inspections and interviews, including animal care, veterinary, conservation, research, education, safety/security and pretty much everything we do! We’re so proud of this honor, and our team!
For the first time ever, the Aquarium is exhibiting a sandbar shark (carcharhinus plumbeus), in our million-gallon Open Sea exhibit. The male shark, originally from Hawaii, has been growing up behind the scenes in our Animal Research and Care Center in Marina. The new shark is 43 pounds and measures four feet, six inches, and you can see it now on our live web cam!