A California aquarium received an early Christmas present over the weekend when a pregnant wild sea otter swam into its tide pool and gave birth to an adorable pup.
The otter in question had been visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium grounds in Monterey, California, for the past several days -- behavior that had raised some concern among the aquarium's employees.
“It’s rare for a healthy sea otter to visit the pool so frequently -- we started to wonder if she was doing all right,” the aquarium staff wrote in a Sunday blog post.
All became clear on Saturday morning, when staff members spotted the otter grooming a tiny baby, its umbilical cord still attached.
As one might imagine, photogenic chaos ensued.
In several photos posted to the aquarium's blog, the beautiful pup is seen being cradled by its mom, who busily works to fluff up her baby’s thick coat.
As the aquarium’s staff notes, the fluffing helps the baby to float and to stay warm. Unlike a lot of other aquatic creatures, such as whales and penguins, sea otters don't have a bunch of body fat to keep them warm. Instead, their thick underfur traps air inside, creating an insulating layer that protects them from the cold waters.
Sea otters have the densest fur in the world, according to the aquarium and other wildlife experts, with up to a million hairs per square inch. By comparison, a human only has 100,000 hairs or fewer on his or her entire head.
“In the wild, sea otter moms groom their pups for hours to keep them warm and buoyant,” says the aquarium's blog, which contains videos of rescue pups being diligently groomed by sea otter moms and members of the aquarium staff.
Sea otters are a protected species, having been hunted nearly to extinction in the early 1800s.
“But now, thanks to legislative protection and a change of heart toward these furriest of sea creatures, the otter population has rebounded to steady levels in the Monterey Bay, and with 3,000 total in central California,” says the aquarium, which boasts an otter rescue program.
After mom and baby got their bearings, the pair headed out into the open ocean together, the aquarium reported.
Fortunately for their adoring fans, the mom and pup were spotted again on Monday floating in a nearby kelp forest. An aquarium staff member broadcast their appearance on Periscope while taking questions from the public.
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