Photos by Michaela Kwoka-Coleman.
The sound of “Happy Birthday” could be heard throughout the Aquarium of the Pacific Thursday afternoon as fans celebrated the 20th birthday of Charlie the southern sea otter.
Decked out in party hats, guests crammed in front of the sea otter exhibit in the Northern Pacific Gallery to catch a glimpse of the birthday boy’s celebration, complete with a cake and sign made out of clam and shrimp puree.
At 20-years-old, Charlie is the oldest male sea otter at any zoo or aquarium. Typically, sea otters live between eight and 15 years, according to Michele Sousa, assistant curator of mammals and birds at the aquarium.
“One of the nice things about the program we have here is we train for three reasons: mental stimulation, physical exercise and husbandry,” she said. “All of these different behaviors add to the longevity of their lifespan because they’re in an exhibit setting like ours.”
At the aquarium, Charlie has access to an onsite veterinarian. He also eats about $25,000 worth of restaurant quality seafood a year.
Sea otters eat about 25 to 30 percent of their body weight every day and a male sea otter can eat up to 15 pounds of food in one day, according to the aquarium’s website.
However, Charlie didn’t always have the lavish life he now lives.
He was found abandoned in the Pacific north coast at one-day old with his umbilical cord still attached.
Sousa said that because he had no experience in the wild, he was deemed “unreleasable” and sent to the aquarium.
Charlie left the Aquarium of the Pacific for two years to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He was the first sea otter to participate in a hearing threshold study.
“All the things we know about otter hearing comes from Charlie, and that’s just fantastic,” Sousa said.
Currently, sea otters are on the “threatened species” list due to being trapped and killed for their fur. Sousa said that there’s only around 2,800 sea otters left now.
“We’re nowhere near where we need to be for these animals to be delisted,” she said.
While Charlie celebrated his big day, he shared his cake with the aquarium’s other otters, Brooke, 19, Maggie, 16, Ollie, 6, Betty, 5, and Chloe, 4.
Brooke will being turning 20-years-old in June.