Southern Sea Otter Celebrates His 22nd Birthday at the Aquarium of the Pacific


Photo: Robin Riggs

Charlie, one of the Aquarium’s original charter animals, turned twenty-two today and is now the second southern sea otter on record to ever reach that age. Aquarium biologists presented him with an edible seafood cake for his birthday. As a pup he was stranded, rescued, and deemed non-releasable to the wild before arriving at the Aquarium. He is the oldest southern sea otter living at any aquarium or zoo, earning him a feature in the Guinness Book of World Records: Wild Things edition released in 2018. “Charlie is nearly double the average life span of a wild southern sea otter. Although he doesn’t get around like he used to, he is enjoying life and we are appreciating every day he is with us,” said Brett Long, curator of birds and mammals. Guests were invited to wear birthday hats and sing Happy Birthday to Charlie as he enjoyed his favorite foods, treats, and gifts.  

As a charter animal, Charlie the southern sea otter has been with the Aquarium since it first opened. Charlie was orphaned during the fierce El Niño storms of 1997. He came from a sea otter rescue program when animal experts determined that he could not survive on his own in the wild and needed a home. Southern sea otters reside along the coast of Northern California from just south of San Francisco to the central California coast. They are critical to the kelp forest ecosystem, feeding on the urchins that feast on the kelp. California’s southern sea otters are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Hunting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries nearly wiped out the entire population, and by 1938 only fifty remained. Conservation efforts have grown the population to nearly 3,000, but these animals still face threats, including ocean pollution and habitat loss.   

In addition to his role as an animal ambassador living at the Aquarium, Charlie has also contributed to scientific research. From 2011 to 2013 he participated in a study of how sea otters perceive sound at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Lab. The study’s results could inform decisions made by government agencies regarding ocean noise. Charlie was selected for the study in part because of the behavioral training he had received at the Aquarium. To participate, Charlie learned to enter a specialized acoustic testing environment, listen for sound signals, and respond to the researchers, notifying them whether or not he had heard the sound by touching his nose to a target or remaining still.

The nonprofit Aquarium of the Pacific is a community gathering place where diverse cultures and the arts are celebrated and where important challenges facing our planet are explored by scientists, policymakers, and stakeholders in search of sustainable solutions. The Aquarium is dedicated to conserving and building nature and nature’s services by building the interactions between and among peoples. Home to more than 11,000 animals, Aquarium exhibits include the Ocean Science Center, Molina Animal Care Center, and the newTentacles and Ink and FROGS: Dazzling & Disappearing exhibits. Beyond its animal exhibits, the Aquarium offers educational programs for people of all ages, from hands-on activities to lectures by leading scientists. Field trips for schoolchildren are offered at a heavily discounted rate from $7 to $8.50 per student. The Aquarium has won a 2015 Travelers’ Choice Award for Aquariums, as awarded by TripAdvisor® travelers. The Aquarium offers memberships with unlimited FREE admission for 12 months, VIP Entrance, and other special benefits.

Credit: Aquarium of the Pacific.

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