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Checking in with the otter pups born at the Fort Fisher aquarium

Three new additions came to the Asian small-clawed otter family at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. WHQR checked in on pups to see how they were doing.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is an accredited facility through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or AZA. This allows the aquarium to participate in the species survival plan, or SSP, to help conserve and manage selected species of wildlife.

Shannon Anderson, an aquarist who works specifically with otters, talked about the aquarium's goals.

"So right now the goal is that we can perfect our education, our husbandry practices, research, that's all of course, noninvasive, to kind of help get a better understanding of these animals," she said.

The aquarium is one of 16 facilities in North America that are able to participate in the breeding of this species. They operate with 'hands off' as possible, letting the otters bond naturally, a process that can take time considering small-clawed otters mate for life. Shannon says staff were surprised by how quickly Leia and Quincy connected.

“We acquired both Quincy and Leia from two separate facilities in October of 2021. And they bonded, fortunately, right away, it's in their nature to want companionship. So of course, we set them up for success in that way," she said.

Both otters are first-time parents and having a successful first litter is no easy feat. Both parents have been very attentive to their pups, so much that it makes doing routine checkups on par with a NASCAR pit stop. When the parents leave for natural behaviors like eating or using the bathroom, a team of vet techs must check the vitals, weight, and temperature of each pup in less than 5 minutes. In addition, they have to remain unseen and unheard so they don’t upset the pups' parents. Shannon says this system is part of their hands-off approach.

“For the most part, our job is to be as hands-off as possible, because they learn a lot from their parents, and we don't want to interfere in that. We have seen some really good positive behavior from both of them, that we are just so proud of. They've been so attentive, so gentle, Mom has definitely worked really hard. And we see signs of nursing every single day," Shannon said.

As for when the pups will be debuted in their new habitat, Shannon says it could be late summer or early fall because of the amount of time between each milestone of development.

“They wean off mom, around 120 days, their eyes don't even open until like day 17 and that's the earliest. We need to make sure that they're mobile, that they have had some swim lessons... because mom and dad teach them to swim, they teach them literally everything, even where to go to the bathroom, because they have a common communal latrine," she said.

During the latest pupdate vet techs confirmed the sex of each pup, all females, that are healthy and gaining weight.

To keep up with the otter pups journey, visit here.

Megan McDeavitt is a filmmaker from Boone, NC. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Filmmaking at UNCW, and her AAS in Marine Technology at CFCC. She's worked in local journalism throughout North Carolina before returning to school, where she focuses on strengthening her creative storytelling and looking at environmental issues within the community.