A sea otter gave birth right off the deck at the Aquarium Saturday afternoon. The waves in the bay were very high and rough, so she swam into the sheltered Great Tide Pool and found there a good birthing rock.
Hundreds lined the railing all day, watching with respect and awe. Both guests and staff, including otter biologists who, after a lifetime of study, were finally witnessing their first birth of this very wild and private animal.
Thousand more watched it live online, myself included. You can see an edited version (births take a long time!) on the Aquarium’s YouTube channel.
They titled the video “Watch a baby sea otter being born! (Spoiler alert: the miracle of life is graphic!)”
Oh really - “graphic?” How about “the miracle of life is miraculous, or amazing, or inspiring?” I’ve seen human births and I’ve given birth and I would definitely call those miracles very graphic, probably because there was a lot of blood and a lot yelling involved.
This mother otter was visibly intent and determined and yes, really pushing. For hours. That I could identify with.
But graphic? No blood. (Some cool mucus.) No yelling. (The new pup did some cute squealing after it was all over.) What struck me was not how graphic it was, but how natural. Normal. And just incredibly moving.
Most amazing part? Finally the head appears (maybe it’s the tail, hard to tell, a matted wet blob.) It emerges from the mother’s body just a little. And then she calmly reaches down, and with her paws she tugs the rest of the baby out of her own body! She pulls it out!
Next? Hours of grooming and licking and cuddling and nursing. The baby soaked with mucus becomes a fluff ball. All that grooming gets the baby’s blood flowing, and builds up the fur so the helpless baby (has not yet learned to swim) can float.
Mom, baby, miracle. Safety in a storm. Calm intensity. Pushing. Pulling it out of herself by herself. Licking and cuddling and nursing.
A very holy event.
(Steve Choy photo, NOAA, another newborn pup.)
(Update – Mom and pup stayed three days, then headed off into the bay. She’ll teach her baby how to dive, collect food, groom itself and other life skills. Otters were declared extinct from hunting 100 years ago, but from 30 that were hiding in Big Sur have descended 3000 or so, but still highly threatened. Calif. residents – on your tax return, check off a contrib. to sea otter research.)