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Long Beach Aquarium Joins A Sea Otter Foster Program That Could Save The Species

Millie, a sea otter rescued from the Central California coast, is the latest addition to the Aquarium of the Pacific's sea otter exhibit. (Courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific)
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There's a new addition at the Aquarium of the Pacific — but she's more than just another cute, fuzzy face.

Meet Millie: she's a 4-year-old southern sea otter that was picked up off the Santa Cruz coast when she was just a few weeks old and rehabilitated by the animal rescue team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. She later graduated from that aquarium's surrogacy program, which trains adult female otters to help raise orphaned pups so they can eventually be released back into the wild.

Millie has since been transferred to the Aquarium of the Pacific, which has now partnered with the Monterey Bay Aquarium to expand the surrogacy program. That means Millie will soon be back on the job to care for stranded sea otter pups from her new digs in Long Beach.

Unlike other marine mammals, sea otter pups are extremely dependent on their mothers to teach them the basics of survival, like foraging for food and grooming their fur.

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"If you want to rehabilitate them and release them into the wild, you need to have a mechanism for them to learn how to be a sea otter," said Brett Long, curator of birds and mammals at the Aquarium.

There are just under 3,000 sea otters living off the California coastline, according to the latest head count from last spring. They have been considered a threatened species since 1977.

Once some behind-the-scenes work is completed, the Aquarium of the Pacific expects to be ready to host its first pups by September.