A newborn sea otter, no more than one day old, was out at sea in Alaska with its mother, when two orcas repeatedly attacked them on Sept 9. After a tail slap from one of the orcas, the mother otter and pup burst out of the water and were separated.
The orcas then turned their attention to the mother otter, who did not resurface from the water, said the Alaska SeaLife Centre (ASLC) on its website on Sept 18.
After the orcas left the area, persistent cries from the water showed that the pup had survived the attack, said the ASLC.
“Her cries were gurgly, and when we got her out of the water, she was soaked. Her coat wasn’t repelling water and keeping her buoyant like it should have been,” said Ms Natalie Hunter, a ASLC laboratory technician and wildlife response team member.
A fresh umbilical cord on the pup confirmed that the patient was only a day or possibly even hours old, the centre said.
The ASLC Wildlife Response team examined the pup and found it was fatigued and hungry but otherwise seemed to be in good health.
Ms Hunter was with her friends on a recreational fishing trip when they witnessed the attack.
They were initially excited to see the orcas, which they observed from a distance.
“The group on the boat did not know this was a pod of transient orcas known to predate on mammals, so Hunter and friends did not immediately connect that an otter floating nearby could be a target,” said the ASLC.
“It wasn’t until a commotion under the otter happened that they realised what they were witnessing. The otter did not attempt to dive away from the whales, and the group realised the otter was carrying a pup when they heard the characteristic young otter calls.”
Ms Hunter then called the ASLC Wildlife Response Hotline to report the incident.
“My brain was in wildlife response mode during the entire incident, thinking we, unfortunately, may have an otter pup rescue on our hands. It wasn’t until the entire event ended, the wild orcas had left the area, and the pup started crying out for its mother that I knew we had to think about the next move,” she said.
When the ASLC had permission from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to respond to the pup, Ms Hunter and her friends got the pup out of the water and onto the boat.
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