Orphaned otters find friendship at Dubuque aquarium

The two otters play at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque. (National Mississippi River Museum &
The two otters play at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque. (National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium)

Two orphaned otters at the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque have found a friend in each other after a successful introduction at the aquarium this week.

Neither of the North American river otters have names yet, but museum staff said they will get names in the future. For now, they’re known as the male otter and the female otter. Both were babies found in urban areas of Iowa and were taken in by animal rehabilitators before being sent to the museum.

The otters had been living separately for the last few months as museum staff made sure they were healthy and let them get used to each other’s smells and sounds. On Monday, the female otter was successfully introduced into the male’s habitat area in the aquarium’s Flooded Forest exhibit.

The introduction was an instant hit. A video of the otters meeting shows them immediately rubbing heads and chasing each other playfully through the exhibit, swimming and running together.

“Because they were found at such a young age and imprinted on humans, just personality wise, these two are very social creatures,” said Wendy Scardino, museum director of marketing and community. “I know for the first 24 hours they were together, they hardly slept, they were so busy playing together.”

The male otter arrived at the museum at the beginning of September, and the museum took in the female otter a few weeks later at the end of September.

“She was found in the Waterloo area in a residential neighborhood, alone. She was monitored for a time to make sure there was no parent nearby,” Scardino said.


When no parent was found, the female otter, who was just a few weeks old, was taken in by an independent animal rehabilitator and taken care of until she was sent to the museum. She is now about a year old.

The male otter was found in Des Moines, also without a parent around, and was taken care of by a rehabilitator in Altoona before arriving at the museum. Since they were so young when they were found, neither were good candidates to be released into the wild, Scardino said.

The museum has a third North American river otter, an older female named Momma, who has her own habitat. She is geriatric and “fairly set in her ways,” Abby Urban, curator of living collections at the aquarium, told The Gazette when the male otter arrived, and she would not be a good fit to live with the two younger otters.

The two younger otters are too young to breed, but it’s possible they will in the future, Scardino said. For now, they’re just enjoying playing together.

“Upon introduction, the female appeared to be actively leading their socialization and play,” Urban said in a news release. “Over the next few weeks staff and our guests will be able to watch the personalities of these otters develop further as they get to know one another.”

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