Thanks to rescue and rehabilitation efforts, aquarium welcomes new animals 

For the over 12,000 species that consider the Aquarium of the Pacific their home, it was business as usual over the past year.

Minor changes had to be made for the animals who were used to human activity, including a video screen that was installed for the aquarium’s day octopus to serve as a type of enrichment in the public’s absence. Other animals received new toys, said Nate Jaros, curator of fish and invertebrates at the aquarium.

The Aquarium of the Pacific even welcomed some new members to the family, including a green sea turtle (now in the new Coral Reef exhibit), a red-footed booby bird, and a “sexy shrimp,” named for its dance-like movements.

The introduction of the new animals is largely due to the aquarium’s rescue and rehabilitation programs. The booby, for instance, was determined to be non-releasable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium before being transferred to its new home at Aquarium of the Pacific.

Animals can be determined non-releasable for a variety of reasons, such as an injury that limits their ability to forage or live in the wild, or if the animal was stranded at such a young age that it hasn’t developed the skill sets needed to thrive in the wild.

Most of the aquarium’s sea otters were orphaned as pups, according to Brett Long, the Aquarium of the Pacific’s bird and mammal curator. After being deemed non-releasable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, they were brought to Long Beach for a long-term home.

In March 2020, the aquarium entered into a partnership with Monterey Bay Aquarium and SeaWorld San Diego, where adult female sea otters act as surrogate moms for pups, usually for nine to 11 months, hopefully teaching them the necessary skills to be re-released into the wild.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has been involved in the effort for 20 years, said Long.

“What they found was that if they let the female sea otters teach skills to (the pups), that they were more likely to succeed in the wild, and then reach a breeding age and actually produce more otters,” said Long.

However, Monterey Bay only had the capacity for about four sea otter pups per year, while on average 12 to 15 stranded pups are found along the Central California coastline each year.

Long hopes that the Aquarium of the Pacific will have the capacity to foster or surrogate up to 12 sea otter pups per year.

“The pandemic happened and it slowed down that process a little bit, but we’ve still been moving forward in creating and building the infrastructure that will allow us to participate,” said Long, who hopes that the project will be completed within the next four to six months.

Not only does the aquarium work to provide rescue services, but it also participates in numerous conservation efforts.

Conservation is an “obligation,” according to Long, who said that the Aquarium of the Pacific is at the forefront of that work.

White abalone, the first invertebrate to be listed on the Endangered Species Act, are bred at the aquarium, and giant sea bass, also critically endangered, are studied and monitored by the aquarium as well.

The rescue and conservation programs extend to sea turtles, who wind up at the aquarium for a variety of reasons, sometimes needing medical care as a result of injuries from fishing gear, or other times they just need to warm up from the cold California water, said Jaros.

While the Aquarium of the Pacific emphasizes the importance of conservation and animal rehabilitation, Jaros said that efforts can also be made at home.

“A lot of people think that one person can’t really make a difference, but we can make a difference,” said Jaros, urging efforts such as evaluating one’s own carbon footprint.

He recommended using purchasing power to choose sustainable seafood, reef-safe and ocean-safe sunscreens, avoiding single-use plastics, and of course, supporting eco-tourism through visiting or volunteering at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

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