A wild sea otter mother and her "otterly" adorable newborn pup have become celebrities at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Central California, where the two have been photographed and filmed bonding over the past few days.
The pup's birth at the aquarium's Great Tide Pool this past Saturday made headlines around the globe. It was the first time ever a Southern sea otter birth was recorded and broadcast on live video via Periscope, according to Angela Hains, the aquarium's public relations manager.
"It was just incredible," Hains told ABC News today. "She came to the tide pool and used it as a nursery."
Hains explained that the pool is connected to the ocean and that wild sea otters frequently visit the pool, especially to seek refuge during severe storms.
"She was swimming for a bit and then hauled herself out to the rocks, and after a handful of hours, staff and visitors were all around the railing looking," Hains said. "She was having contractions. A videographer was able to capture for the first time ever the live birth of a Southern sea otter."
Hains added that witnessing "the miracle of life was breathtaking" and that the "strong momma" attended to the pup as soon as it popped out.
"She immediately removed the sac and started grooming right away," she said, "And this is really important because grooming keeps pups warm, dry and afloat. Their fur needs to be in great condition to keep them buoyant."
Hains added that the fluffy Southern sea otter pups "have the thickest fur of any animal in the animal kingdom" -- up to one million hairs per square inch of their body.
The wild sea otter mom and pup that captured our hearts this weekend will likely move soon from our Great Tide Pool to the kelp forest out in the bay so mom can forage for a much-needed meal! Mother otters certainly have their paws full nursing and grooming a newborn pup, as you can see in this clip. By the time a pup is two months old, it’ll have shed most of its fluffy pup coat and be doing lots of exploring and even a bit of diving. Soon it will be playing its role as a keystone species, keeping kelp-grazing sea urchins in check!
Posted by Monterey Bay Aquarium on Monday, March 7, 2016
"This is why they were hunted -- for their fur -- and why they were almost thought to be extinct at one point," she said. "They're still a threatened species, but miracles like these just really validate the work we do to help the oceans and its populations."
The sea otter mother and pup have since seen bonding happily together in the Great Tide Pool.
The baby has been photographed resting on its mother's belly as she grooms it. The pup has also been caught nursing, sleeping and playing with its mom, Hains said.
"This mom has really been doing an amazing job," she said. "Once the pup is two months, the mom will slowly wean it off milk and then introduce her to solid foods like crabs, clams, mussels and abalone. And she'll show it how to find and use tools to open them up if necessary."
The mother and pup went out to the ocean and back to the Great Tide Pool on Sunday and they left again Monday evening and haven't been back as of this afternoon, Hains said.
"We're thinking she's taking the pup to some of her favorite spots that could be better for specific food or places to haul away from waves," she said. "We're hopeful she'll pay us a visit again soon."