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Otter pup rescued in Kenai finds new home

Denali was rescued in Kenai and now lives in captivity at the Minnesota Zoo
Minnesota Zoo
Denali was rescued in Kenai and now lives in captivity at the Minnesota Zoo

Last September, a motorist in Kenai spotted what they believed to be an injured cat on the side of the road, about a quarter mile from the Kenai River. The stranded animal was actually a two-month-old otter pup from Cook Inlet, which had been separated from its mother. Biologists are unsure how long the pup was alone, but think tidal shifts are a contributing factor.

“When we get a sea otter pup, they cannot be released back to the wild,” said Jane Belovarac, wildlife response curator at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward. The stranded pup was brought to the facility, where it was rehabilitated.

“They depend so much on their mother to hunt and forage and to be social, that this is something we cannot replicate when it comes to these little guys,” she said.

The otter, named Denali, spent about a month and a half at the center. During this time, the pup was fed and groomed on a 24-hour basis, much like she would have under the care of her mother.

Alongside Nuka, an otter pup that was rescued from an Orca attack in Homer, Denali was transferred to the Minnesota Zoo outside of Minneapolis in mid-October. She was under 24-hour observation until a few weeks ago.

“She has adjusted really well,” said Terah Grace, zoologist for marine mammals at the Minnesota Zoo. “Initially, she was kind of keeping to herself, she would look over at the other otters, but now she’s engaging them.”

Grace took part in Denali’s rehabilitation at the SeaLife Center. She also helped get the pup ready for transport, which occurred via airplane.

Since arriving at the zoo, Grace says Denali has grown comfortable with her new environment. She also says the pup has grown curious and playful in her habitat.

“She is a very smart girl, she picked up on all the animal training so quickly,” Grace said. “If you put something in there, she’s going to find a way to get it apart if you don’t do your job to make sure everything’s secure.”

The new environment has also allowed Denali and Nuka to bond with each other. Although they have not had direct contact, the pups enjoy engaging via a see-through acrylic wall. Grace says the zoo hopes to introduce the two sometime this week.

“How much they’ve grown and adjusted at the Minnesota Zoo is amazing,” she said. “They’ve taken leaps and bounds since they’ve been here, we got to know them quite in-depth and understand what their behavior is and how much they’ve grown.”

“By having an animal that can become an ambassador for the species, it really gives a face-to-face opportunity for visitors to be able to understand how important these ecosystems are,” Belovarac added.

For updates and news regarding stranded marine animals being cared for, visit the Alaska SeaLife Center website. There, you can also find a hotline for reporting stranded animals.

Hunter Morrison is a news reporter at KDLL