Tennessee Aquarium Otters Now At Chattanooga Arboretum And Nature Center

Temporary Home Provides More Care And Training Opportunities

Friday, November 8, 2013 - by Thom Benson
Aquarium otter
Aquarium otter
- photo by John Kelley

A bevy of five North American River Otters are another step closer to their home at the Tennessee Aquarium. The animals have been moved from a facility in South Carolina to new temporary quarters at the Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center. This move comes after the Aquarium was saddened by the unexpected loss of “Pete,” one of the Aquarium’s beloved otters.

Looking Back:

The Aquarium is making dramatic improvements to the Cove Forest to triple the size of the original otter exhibit. This extensive construction project meant that Pete and Delmar would need to be housed at another location. Four additional otters, recently acquired by the Aquarium, were being cared for at a facility in South Carolina. So Pete and Delmar were moved to join, and acclimate with, this group of otters.

Prior to leaving the Aquarium, Pete and Delmar were given thorough physical examinations that included blood work and x-rays. Both animals were deemed healthy and fit for travel. Upon arrival they behaved normally and ate well. Delmar remained vigorous, but Pete began declining within days of his arrival.

As much as the Aquarium staff wanted to pinpoint the cause of death, test results from a post-mortem examination were inconclusive.

Re-evaluating needs:

“After losing Pete, we stepped back to re-examine our interim holding plans,” said Jackson Andrews, the Aquarium’s director of husbandry and operations. “It became apparent that we wouldn’t be able to work from a remote location and still accomplish all of the husbandry goals necessary to open the new exhibit.”

The Aquarium was able to forge a new, mutually beneficial partnership  with the Nature Center to construct a temporary home for the otters in Chattanooga. This allows the Aquarium’s otter keepers and staff veterinarian to be responsible for the daily care of the otters. In addition, the Nature Center will gain increased holding capacity for other animals once the Aquarium’s new otter exhibit opens.

Looking forward:

The otters’ temporary living quarters at the Nature Center, which is not open to the public, is set up to function much like their future home at the Aquarium. The various groups will have a large common area to explore with separate holding space for each group. Keepers will target train the otters to present their teeth and paws for examination as well as step onto a scale to be weighed. They will also learn to follow cues to go on and off exhibit. This will ensure that all Aquarium guests will be able to see otters scampering around and gracefully swimming in the new exhibit.

Teaching these behaviors in advance will make the transition to their new home much smoother. “Some individuals respond quickly to positive reinforcement, while other animals may take longer to pick up on our cues,” said Mr. Andrews. “The extra time we’ll gain working directly with the otters gives the animals more time to build trust and rapport with our staff."

Once the new exhibit opens at the Aquarium, these otters will take turns playfully exploring their new home. “Two of the males are already bonding well and getting along quite nicely,” said Mr. Andrews. “The juvenile male and female are both orphans and they also behave well together. Our goal is to get Delmar and all of the otters accustomed to spending time with one another in a shared space.”

Meanwhile, building the new exhibit in the Aquarium is on schedule. The challenging demolition work is over and crews are now busy with the construction phase. Once open, the otters will have a large, multi-tiered space to explore, including waterfalls and a flowing stream. Visitors will also have three times the viewing area to watch their antics. “I think our guests will be thrilled by the dramatic changes they’ll experience when the new otter exhibit opens in early May 2014,” said Mr. Andrews. 

Aquarium otter
Aquarium otter
- Photo2 by John Kelley

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