This otter pup was stranded at five weeks old in Elk Neck State Park. Photo: The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

VIDEO: MD Zoo Cares for Otter Pup Rescued in Upper Bay

It doesn’t get much cuter than a baby North American river otter. When a female pup was found stranded alone on the shore at Elk Neck State Park, Maryland Park Service rangers knew she wouldn’t make it in the wild.

The otter was estimated to be about 40 days old when she was found in the state park, which sits on a peninsula between the Chesapeake Bay and the Elk River. There was no sign of the little mammal’s mother, even when park rangers waited and watched for her to return.

There wasn’t much time to waste. “Otters that young are very vulnerable without their mother,” said Erin Cantwell Grimm, mammal curator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. “They need to eat every few hours.”

Park officials contacted a local animal rehab facility first, then the decision was made to bring the otter to the Maryland Zoo.

The zoo’s experts had their work cut out for them and were busy around the clock. They captured this short video of the pup in rehabilitation:

Video: The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore

“Pups learn all their life skills from their mother so it’s up to us to teach them things an otter should know, like how to hunt, what’s safe to eat and, believe it or not, not to be afraid of the water at first,” says Grimm. “We have to take over and make sure it has all the tools she’ll need to thrive into adulthood.”

You won’t see the new pup on exhibit at the zoo at the moment. She is living in the quarantine area of the zoo’s animal hospital until she has received vaccinations, passed her initial health exams, and has become a more experienced swimmer.

But you can see the zoo’s male otter, Hudson, in a special habitat in the Maryland Wilderness section. And if you keep your eyes peeled, you may see a North American river otter in the wild here on the Chesapeake Bay. They live in streams, lakes, ponds, wetlands, and coastal shorelines and marshes as well as tidewater areas. Baltimore-area residents were recently shocked to see video of a pair of otters frolicking in the urban Jones Falls, an often-polluted tributary that runs to the Inner Harbor. SERC scientists are studying otter behavior in the wild, as Chesapeake Bay Magazine reported in our 2023 March/April issue.

As to where the rescued otter pup will ultimately land, that’s yet to be determined. The zoo is working with the Species Survival Plan coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to identify the best future home.

-Meg Walburn Viviano