Shedd Sea Otter Luna

photo courtesy of The Shedd Aquarium

Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium celebrates the naming of Rescued Sea Otter Pup

By: Ashley Gustafson

The Shedd Aquarium of Chicago, IL, or more commonly referred to as “the Shedd” by its beloved members, staff, and Chicago family, is no stranger to animal rescue, adoption, and rehabilitation. Their latest addition is an orphaned, southern sea otter pup from Coastways Beach between San Mateo and Santa Cruz, California. This baby sea otter came to the Shedd as Pup 681 from the Monterey bay Aquarium where she was originally cared for after being rescued. She traveled with her new caretakers all the way from California to Chicago on October 28, 2014. Since moving to the Shedd she has not only grown and developed at an exceptional pace but captured the hearts off her caretakers, Shedd staff, and Chicago community and tourists alike. Just over a month ago, 77 Shedd members joined staff in celebrating the big reveal of Pup 681’s new name at a small, early-morning party in the Regenstein Sea Otter Habitat. Once the party began, Tim Binder, the vice president of animal collections at the Shedd spoke to the small crowd about Pup 681’s journey and time at the Shedd so far. He then held up an envelope concealing Pup 681’s new name….. Luna!

As in the past, the Shedd likes to give the public a chance to name new animals based on their pasts, personalities, and of course looks. One particular tradition at the Shedd is to name rescued animals after the place where they were rescued. In Luna’s case , she was rescued along the California coastline near Half Moon Bay thus the name Luna, meaning moon in Spanish, makes perfect sense for the baby otter. Luna was one of 5 names selected by Shedd staff and put to a vote for Shedd members. Luna won by the vast majority of voters. When the public was asked the same five names on Good morning America nearly 10,000 chose Luna (once again the vast majority).

Sadly, Luna’s story isn’t an uncommon one. The southern sea otter is classified as a threatened animal population by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN). Their threatened status is attributed to a number of reasons such as fur trade, intensive hunting, oil spills, climate changes, and human impact like habitat destruction and recreation. Only 3000 otters are estimated in the wild, and sadly although a number of precautions and laws have been created to protect these otters, the numbers are still not bouncing back.

On a brighter note, one thing that makes sea otters in distress easy to find is their distinctive, piercing squeals. Baby Luna was found in area north of Santa Cruz where it is common for sharks to eat foraging otters. This is what experts suspect happened to Luna’s mother since she was alone for at least 16 hours when the rescuers found her, which is unheard of in maternal care of baby otters as young as Luna. When Luna was rescued she weighed just over 2 lbs., which is very small, even for a newborn. Her original name, Pup 681, was given to her at the Monterey bay aquarium as it comes from the programs running tally of otters that go through their program. Once she was stabilized, the Shedd was contacted in order to find baby Luna a forever home. The Shedd is one of only a few U.S. facilities with space, staff, and expertise to care for infant, orphaned sea otters. Luna joined the ranks of Kiana and Mari both from Alaskan waters, rescued from oil spills, and Cayucos who is also from California’s threatened southern sea otter population. A team of 6-8 experts is working on teaching young Luna to be an otter. Young otters learn most of their behaviors from other otters as most behaviors they need to survive are not innate. While Luna began a little behind her wild pup counter parts, Luna is developing quickly and packing on the pounds due to a high calorie formula diet. She now weights 6 lbs! She’s even hitting big milestones in her life like drinking formula from a bottle, cracking small claims, and eating shrimp. Due to her young age of abandonment, Luna sadly will never be able to return to the wild as she relies too heavily on the care from the experts who rescued her. She however is a critical and vital tool to otter conservation and helping to save her relatives that still do live in the wild. Luna is an ambassador to her wild relatives and by seeing her we can only hope to raise enough awareness to make a difference for Sea Otters everywhere! With a range all along the California coast to Alaska it is important to protect and conserve such beloved, playful, even inspirational creatures.

Why are sea otters important to me?

When I volunteered at the Shedd, one of the most popular questions guests asked was how does this affect me? This question may seem selfish to many of you, but it is an important question to consider. While sea otters are incredible, interesting creatures there are other reasons besides admiration that they are important. First, they play a crucial role in marine ecosystems and are often the keystone species within their ecosystems meaning that they support the structure of the rest of their ecosystem and could cause the whole structure to collapse if they were to be eliminated from the system entirely.

They do this by eating sea urchins and other kelp grazing organisms that without the sea otter predation would be overpopulated and destroy the kelp forests, thus destroying all the animals that use the kelp forests for shelter. Another reason is that they are a good indicator of Ocean health. Since they are a top predator along the California coast, changes in their health keep scientists aware of variations in the ocean environment in general. This can give us a warning in spikes of pollution, or pathogens in the ocean along the coast where many humans live and visit the beach.


Ways you can make a difference and help sea otters like Luna!

Sea otter awareness week (September 21st-27th in 2014) – 12 years running
Support efforts to control urban, industrial, and agricultural runoff that can carry chemicals and pathogens harmful to marine organisms into the ocean
Support sustainable products! (guides available from Blue Ocean Institute)
Make a donation to your aquarium of choice- every little bit can help otters like Luna!

Ashley Gustafson


Ashley is a recent college graduate from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences with concentrations in ecology and genetics. She loves all animals and aquatic life and wants to pursue a career that incorporates the two. In her free time she enjoys writing, traveling, and the outdoors. Recently Scuba certified just last March, she is excited to travel and go on more dives not only as a hobby but hopefully as part of a career too!



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