Meet Joey, the adorable rescued sea otter pup

By Linda Barnard

An adorable rescued sea otter pup recovering at the Vancouver Aquarium is giving the world a daily dose of cute with a 24-7 otter pup cam feed.

Watching the antics of baby otter Joey has turned out to be a welcome pause during stressful times. The bonus is the little guy’s growing international celebrity could have a big impact on the struggling Vancouver Aquarium’s finances.

A baby sea otter is being bottle fed by a volunteer.
Orphaned sea otter pup Joey was rescued by Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Rescue Centre and is being cared for in a new nursery at the Vancouver Aquarium. Photo: Ocean Wise/Vancouver Aquarium

The aquarium closed from March until late June under COVID-19 restrictions. It re-opened with an emphasis on safety: pre-booked, timed-admission tickets with reduced numbers to promote distancing, hand sanitizing stations, face masks required and designated foot traffic flow routes.

Visitors, whose admission fees keep the Vancouver Aquarium running, have been slow to return and revenues have plummeted.

The aquarium and its 70,000 animals didn’t hit the pause button with the pandemic. It costs about $1.4 million a month to run the facility. Bills for animal care staff and the aquarium’s complex water filtration system still had to be paid.

But affection for an otter pup with a fighting spirit may help keep the Stanley Park facility afloat.

The baby otter cam is a ringside seat on Joey’s progress as he comes back from his rocky early life start. People watch him wriggling around in his crib, being groomed by trainers, playing with his vast toy collection and learning to do otter things, like floating on his back carrying rubber “kelp fronds” on his tummy.

Joey was about 10 days old when he was discovered in early July near Kyuquot, British Columbia. A dead otter, presumed to be his mother, was nearby.

The pup was airlifted to the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Rescue Centre — Canada’s only facility of its kind. According to his bio page, Joey was “tiny, hypothermic and in urgent need of some food” when he arrived.

Learning to be an otter

He’s been eating non-stop and has gained weight, becoming strong enough to move to a new purpose-built nursery at the Vancouver Aquarium. Visitors watch through windows as he goes through rehabilitation in his new temporary home and works on his newly aquired otter skills.

Ocean Wise Director of Communications Amber Sessions says Joey seems to be bringing more people to the aquarium who are anxious to see the famous new resident.

Joey won’t be able to be released back into the wild. He’ll eventually join the six other rescued sea otters at the Vancouver Aquarium. They also have their own otter cams, including one underwater.

It costs about $12,000 a month to feed just one otter. The staff jokes it’s like every meal is Christmas dinner for these furry creatures, with scallops, sea urchins, clams and other shellfish on the menu.

Joey fans can symbolically adopt him by making a donation at the webcam site. The funds go where they’re most needed at the aquarium.

It’s an ongoing struggle for the facility to remain open. “We are facing permanent bankruptcy,” says Sessions.

Fundraising to help struggling aquarium

The aquarium has some new fundraising plans, including an animal sponsorship program, where fans can support residents like Zap the electric eel or Señor Cinco, a rescued California sea lion blinded by gunshots to the face.

a rescued seal pup
Seal pup Bonnie Herring was rescued by Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

The aquarium also has a new Picnic in the Park program, with Ocean Wise-recommended meals created by chef Will Lew to enjoy in Stanley Park. Customizing upgrades include a reusable wicker picnic basket and Ocean Wise bamboo plates and cutlery.

Or order one of the aquarium’s face masks, designed by the Vancouver Whitecaps FC and proceeds going to the facility.

Meanwhile, there’s a new rescued harbour seal pup making headlines as she undergoes treatment at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. Determined, yet calm, Bonnie Herring the harbour seal was named for B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. As soon as she’s strong enough, she’ll be released into the wild.