Otter pup is Newport’s newest aquatic resident

By Ilene Aleshire / (Eugene) Register-Guard

Published Apr 2, 2014 at 12:01AM

NEWPORT — One of the newest living things at the Oregon Coast Aquarium has brown fur and eyes, has long whiskers, is handy with his paws, tips the scale at a little under 40 pounds and is described as “adorable.”

Nuka, a northern sea otter pup, has just finished a 30-day health quarantine and is settling into the aquarium, including becoming adept at extracting shrimp from a perforated ball, according to aquarium staff.

But he isn’t quite yet ready to meet the public — though visitors can watch him on a video screen in the lobby — or join the adult sea otters already resident at the aquarium, according to spokeswoman Erin Paxton.

Nuka was found alone on a beach in Kodiak, Alaska, early last summer, according to the aquarium. Sea otter pups are helpless when they are born, unable to swim or groom the dense fur that keeps them warm and buoyant, and require constant attention from their mothers until they can learn to care for themselves.

The pup, which appeared to be 6 to 8 weeks old when first spotted, was thin and his coat was in rough condition, aquarium staff said. After observers reported his plight, a veterinarian retrieved the pup and sent him to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward for rehabilitation.

The SeaLife Center staff spent months rehabilitating the tiny animal and teaching him how to be a sea otter, according to the Newport aquarium.

But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that Nuka, whose name means “little brother” in the Inuit language, was not a qualified candidate for release back into the wild. They began to look for a long-term home for the pup and found one in the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

The aquarium had space for another male sea otter and was happy to add Nuka to its sea otter family, or raft, as it’s known, Paxton said. Nuka made the trip from Alaska to Oregon without a hitch.

The Newport aquarium said anyone who sees a marine mammal in distress should call the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 541-270-6830 and not approach the animal.