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NATURE: Saving Otter 501

Airs Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Female southern sea otter pup (Enhydra lutris nereis) 502, Monterey, Calif.

Credit: Courtesy of Randy Wilder/Monterey Bay Aquarium

Above: Female southern sea otter pup (Enhydra lutris nereis) 502, Monterey, Calif.

This is the story of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 501st attempt to save a stranded orphan otter. From her discovery as a newborn pup crying on the beach, through her rehabilitation in secret roof tanks atop the Monterey Bay Aquarium, follow Otter 501 as she learns how to survive in the wild.

Watch as she is introduced to her surrogate mother — a method invented by marine biologist Karl Mayer and his team in 2005 — and follow as she struggles to learn how to dive, hunt, eat, and fend for herself in an artificial environment meant to mimic the “real world.”

It is a tale of mysterious threats, persistent failures and small victories, where survival is a long shot at best. Throughout, Otter 501 acts as a lens.

Her story reveals a previously unseen world of otter behavior and also acts to illuminate some of the most difficult ecological questions of our time: Do we have a responsibility to save species that hover on the edge? Are our actions the cause of the illnesses sweeping through the sea otter population? And since we simply can’t return the world to its pristine pre-human form, are preservation efforts like this doomed to fail? Otter 501’s survival may hold the hint of an answer.

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Saving Otter 501

California sea otters are struggling in the wild and no one quite knows why.the The Sea Otter Research and Conservation program team at Monterey Bay Aquarium are responsible for rescuing every abandoned or injured sea otter in northern California with the ultimate goal of returning them to the wild.

Saving Otter 501: Meet Otter 501

A baby sea otter abandoned on the beach was brought in to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. This is the aquarium's 501st attempt to save an orphan otter. Against all odds, will she be able to return to her home in the wild?

Saving Otter 501: Intro of Toola

Today is the day 501 will be introduced to Toola, surrogate mother otter. Can they accept each other so 501 learns everything she will need to know in order to be released back out in the wild?

Saving Otter 501: Education of Otter Pup

Sea otters cannot even swim on their own when they are born. In the wild, a mother otter takes her pup everywhere to protect and educate her baby. 

Meet Karl Mayer, Marine Biologist

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