Minnesota Zoo Cares for Two Orphaned Sea Otter Pups

by | Nov 2023

Sea otter pup Nuka being fed by hand.

Sea otter pup Nuka being fed by hand. Photos: Minnesota Zoo

Learn more about Nuka and Denali and their road to recovery.

On October 27, the Minnesota Zoo announced via press release that two abandoned Northern sea otter pups will begin receiving 24/7 care behind-the-scenes at the Apple Valley zoo. Originally from Alaska, the two young female otters have already led a storied life.

Nuka was rescued when she was just days old after an orca attack left her without a mother. An off-duty staff member with Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) witnessed the attack on September 9 and immediately jumped into action. Working in tandem with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW), ASLC launched a rescue mission with its Wildlife Response team to retrieve the stranded pup and bring it under ASLC care.

Days before Nuka’s rescue, ASLC received reports of an abandoned otter pup five miles up a river near Kenai, Alaska. The pup, now named Denali, was found malnourished and dehydrated with no mother in sight. With the permission of USFW, ASLC took Denali under its care as well.

Sea otter pup Denali


With an extensive rehabilitation effort underway, ASLC invited staff members from the Minnesota Zoo to its facility. Zoo staff spent several weeks alongside ASLC staff providing care for the otter pups and preparing them for the journey to Minnesota.

This isn’t the first the Minnesota Zoo has worked closely with ASLC. Nearly 17 years ago, three abandoned male sea otter pups were rescued by ASLC and transferred to the Minnesota Zoo. These otters, Capers, Jasper and Rocky, are the three stars of the sea otter habitat today.

Denali and Nuka are continuing to receive around-the-clock care at the zoo today, including extensive health monitoring and help with eating, grooming and swimming. 

“We have separate spaces set up for each of the otters,” says Kurt Heizmann, Minnesota Zoo director of animal care, in the press release. “One will be in our reserve pools, separated from our three resident male sea otters, while the youngest otter will be cared for in her own behind-the-scenes nursery.”

The two pups have a long journey back to health ahead of them and will remain behind-the-scenes for a number of weeks. The Minnesota Zoo is sharing frequent updates on Denali and Nuka’s progress via its social media platforms.

Minnesota Zoo
Facebook: Minnesota Zoo
Instagram: @mnzoo
YouTube: Minnesota Zoo


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