Monday, February 20, 2012

Otters Celebrate 7th Birthday Today at the Tennessee Aquarium

Pete and Delmar, the Tennessee Aquarium’s North American river otters, arrived at the Aquarium in 2005. They were almost 7 ½ months old at the time, and Today, February 20th, the otters turn 7 YEARS old!

Seven years old would be fairly old for a river otter in the wild, as they’ll typically live to be about 10 years old. However, in an Aquarium setting the otters get restaurant quality food and excellent health care. And they don't have to worry about predators. As a result, their life span should be considerably longer. Pete and Delmar have been going strong since we received them from the Pittsburg Zoo and Aquarium and we expect them to live into their teens.
Since our wily weasels are so active, they have a daily schedule that ensures they get multiple feedings (have to support that high metabolism!), training, and enrichment.  In the picture above, these visitors learn about an enrichment activity as part of the Tennessee Aquarium's Backstage Pass Tour.
Pete and Delmar begin the day with a morning fish feeding in which smelt or capelin is spread over their beach and in their water for them to find.  Later in the morning comes training, in which the otters work on behaviors that allow keepers to monitor their health. Both otters will show both the tops and bottoms of their feet, get on a scale, shift in and out of their behind-the-scenes area, and hold their nose to a target stick. Both are extremely intelligent, and we never know who will excel more at a given task. For example, Delmar will show us his teeth on cue, while Pete will not. However, keepers are currently working to teach the otters to stand on their back legs on cue, and Pete seems to be progressing in this task faster than Delmar.
 In the afternoon, the otters get enrichment. At first glance, this may look like an ordinary playtime, but there’s always a purpose behind it. Enrichment bringsout natural behaviors in our otters, allows them to make a choice, or improves their environment. There are lots of fun ways to do this: otter have toys they must maneuver to in order to compete for food; they are given shaved ice “snow” in which treats are buried; they can dig and make a mess with pine straw offered just for enrichment; and they can clean their teeth and enjoy a treat at the same time with frozen fish pops.  Delmar in particular tends to be the more dominant otter at enrichment time, often trying new enrichment items before Pete is willing.
 Visitors enjoy watching the playful otters at any time, but they are especially fun to watch during enrichment activities.
 Like any birthday party, the otters seem to enjoy this "pinata" full of fish and clams.

River Otter Fun Facts:
·      -   Pete is the bigger otter. He’s taller when standing on his back legs, and has a patch of pale fur on his chest. -- Delmar is shorter and darker.
·       -   When given frozen treats, the otters love to hide them from one another in rock crevices and up behind the wall on their rock beach.
·        -  Our otters will NOT share food, but typically get along well in other regards.
·       -   The otters have tried smelt, capelin, mackerel, anchovies and sardines. They’ve never met a fish they didn’t like.
-  Delmar in particular loves to dig in pine straw, carry it around and make a mess with it. 

Text by otter keeper Courtney Lewis. Photos by Meredith Lewallen.

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