Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is home to two Southern sea otters: Emma and Clara. Emma came from California's Monterey Bay Aquarium in 1999; Clara came from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program in November 2015.
Sea otters were hunted for their pelts in the 18th- and 19th-centuries and were believed to be extinct in the early 1900s. Through conservation efforts, their numbers have grown but they are once again facing a decrease in population due to diseases, pollutants, low food availability, kelp harvesting and net entrapment. Protected by the federal Endangered Species Act, the Southern sea otter's range, which once spanned from Japan to Baja California is now limited to the Central California coast. Emma and Clara are also under the protection of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has entrusted their care to Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
At Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the sea otter custom-made habitat offers a 25,000-gallon exhibit with two swimming pools at different depths, rock nooks and a large behind-the-scenes area. Audubon's customized sea otter enrichment program includes a wide range of toys, treats and daily training. The training program is particularly important because it increases the bond between the animal and the husbandry staff, provides mental exercises, and enables the animals to participate in their own health care. The training sessions are positive and fun so health care becomes stress-free when the otters come willingly for weigh-ins and check-ups.
With less than 3,000 animals in the wild population, Southern sea otters still face dangers of extinction. They are extremely important to the health and well-being of the kelp forest habitat and their extinction could mean the demise of a whole ecosystem. The sea otters eat sea urchins as a large part of their diet, and left unchecked the urchin population would devastate the kelp forests. This would mean that all the fish in the kelp forests would lose their habitat and soon birds (eaters of the fish) would also be unable to find food. Removing this animal from the food web could have devastating repercussions and proves a remarkable testament to the balance of nature.