Mae, First Otter to Raise a Pup on Exhibit, Dies
We’re sad to report that Mae, an 11-year-old female sea otter who had been part of our sea otter exhibit since she was eight months old, died over the weekend from a seizure disorder whose cause is still unknown. Her seizures began suddenly just a few days before her death on Saturday afternoon, November 17.
Mae was rescued as a two-day-old pup near Santa Cruz in April 2001, and raised by our Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program team. She joined the sea otter exhibit in December 2001 when it became clear that she was not acquiring the skills she needed to be returned to the wild. She was the first animal we’d added to the exhibit since 1986 – starting a new generation of exhibit animals as our original sea otters reached the end of their lives.
That wasn’t Mae’s only “first” with us. In 2010, she became the first surrogate mother otter to raise an orphaned pup on exhibit at the aquarium. Her pup, Kit, is now living at SeaWorld San Diego. Mae served as a companion animal to several otters as part of the SORAC program.
Her name – that of a truck-stop waitress with a screeching voice in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – was chosen in another first-ever process. It was selected for her by the public in an online poll.
Mae, nicknamed “Mayhem” by her caretakers, was a vocal and feisty sea otter who would make direct eye contact with and stick her tongue out at trainers when displeased, according to staff who worked with her. She was also an enthusiastic partner in training sessions, said Chris DeAngelo, associate curator of marine mammals.
“Mae definitely knew the most behaviors of any of our otters and was wonderful to teach new behaviors,” Chris said. “She was one of the first animals that new trainers learned to work with because she was very consistent and good with dealing with ‘trainer errors.’ We’ll all miss her terribly.”
Chris and the sea otter staff also called Mae “the monkey” because she would hold objects like ice molds and toys with her tail, leaving her paws open to accept whatever came next. While none of the other adult otters displayed this behavior, it was picked up by some of the pups Mae raised.
Senior Sea Otter Aquarist Cecelia Azhderian appreciated Mae’s playfulness.
“She loved big buckets,” Cecelia said “She could hardly wait for them to be filled with water before she’d get inside, even though she didn’t like the water hose, which she’d attack it if it came too close.”
Our sea otter exhibit is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in mid-March. Exhibit otters Rosa and Abby and are being housed behind the scenes.
Learn more about our SORAC program and how we’re helping save sea otters.
I’ll miss Mae. The sea otters are my last stop on every visit the aquarium and I felt like after all these years, I’ve gotten to know their little faces.