SAN DIEGO — A sea otter who survived despite the odds is now helping the rest of her species.
Chilly, the southern sea otter, was rescued in 2021 after getting tangled in a fishing line. After a year of rehab at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Chilly’s injuries were too extensive and never fully healed. She has a scar wrapping around her body, and her fur hasn’t grown back. She was deemed non-releasable since it’s unlikely she would survive in the wild without being able to control her body heat.
“Her name Chilly comes from the fact that she might always be a little colder than the other otters because that water is breaking through to her skin in that scar area,” zoological specialist Nick Northcraft said.
Now, Chilly’s permanent home is Otter Outlook at SeaWorld San Diego, also home to six other rescued sea otters.
SeaWorld says the California population of sea otters is less than 3,000 animals. The species is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Shirley Hill also helps care for the group and said Chilly still tries to fix her injury by grooming the area. They’re unsure if it will completely heal, but they’re hopeful.
“She can feel the coldness of the water in that spot, so she’s doing what any otter thinks she needs to do is just continue to groom it,” Hill said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. There is the theory that it will fill in, but it’s just going to take a lot longer than originally anticipated.”
For now, Chilly gets lots of extra food to help her compensate for the extra loss of body heat. Hill believes she’s a great animal ambassador to show how humans can directly impact wildlife.
“She’s a living example. She was entangled and unless she had been rescued, she would have perished,” Hill said.
Northcraft hopes interacting with Chilly and learning more about her story inspires everyone to stop littering and get involved in protecting the animals.
“She’s a sea otter and sea otters are a keystone species that help maintain our ocean and keep our kelp forests thriving, so she’s just a good example that we need to do better at taking care of our environment,” Northcraft said.
According to the National Park Service, sea otters have the thickest fur of any mammal, and adult sea otters can eat 25%-30% of their body weight in one day.
Every year, Sea Otter Awareness Week takes place during the last full week of September to celebrate and inspire deeper awareness of these marine mammals.