“Super Mom” Sea Otter, Joy, Dies
The Aquarium is sad to announce the death of Joy, its “Super Mom” who raised a record number of stranded sea otter pups, many of which were returned to the wild, where they’re raising pups of their own.
Joy, who was 14 years old, was humanely euthanized on August 1 in the Aquarium’s Animal Health Lab, because of failing health as a result of the infirmities of age.
The precocious sea otter was a keystone of the surrogacy program of the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program. During her years at the Aquarium Joy raised 16 pups – more than any other surrogate in our history. She raised three pups on exhibit, helping prepare them for life at other U.S. aquariums. Joy did all this despite several medical setbacks during her years here.
“She was a ‘super mom’ for us – easily the most prolific of all our surrogate female otters,” said Karl Mayer, animal care coordinator with the sea otter program. His team also relied on Joy to serve as a companion to adult females it rescued because of illness or injuries.
On exhibit Joy was easy to identify with her blonde head, as well as her calm and maternal way with other animals. Her favorite toy was a large red ball she would roll on top of and sink in the water to release tidbits of food hidden inside. She enjoyed roughhousing with other otters, said Chris DeAngelo, the Aquarium’s associate curator of marine mammals.
“Joy was definitely the feistiest otter,” DeAngelo said. “She was quick to let you know when you crossed a line.” Joy would show her displeasure with her caretakers by screeching loudly if she thought they weren’t feeding her quickly enough, or if she otherwise didn’t like what they were doing.”
“From a medical perspective, she’s been a real fighter through some serious problems,” said Aquarium veterinarian Dr. Mike Murray. “She has shown a cat-like tendency to survive, and must have had at least nine lives.”
Joy was found stranded on Twin Lakes Beach in Santa Cruz in August 1998 as a five-day-old pup. She released herself during an ocean swim with an Aquarium staff member in December 1998. (At the time Aquarium staff would swim with pups to teach them foraging skills and acclimate them to the ocean. That practice has been discontinued in favor of female otters like Joy raising pups for release.)
Joy remained in the wild for nearly three years. Unfortunately, during that time, she interacted with kayakers and divers, which wasn’t safe for them or for Joy, so she was brought back to the Aquarium and became a permanent resident.
Joy was always willing to play with her exhibit mates as well as toys, which endeared her to Aquarium guests. As with all exhibit animals raised here, her name comes from John Steinbeck’s writings – in her case, a character from In Dubious Battle.
The Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation program has been studying and trying to save the threatened southern sea otter since 1984 with the support of its research, exhibit and policy teams, and the backing of donors and members. To date, we’ve rescued nearly 600 ill and injured otters and returned many back to the wild. The surrogate program continues to raise and release stranded pups, and places non-releasable animals on exhibit in Monterey and at other accredited aquariums across North America.
The research team plays a key role in field studies of sea otters in California, Alaska and Russia. We also works on behalf of policies at the state and federal level that will advance the recovery of sea otter populations.