When Charlie, the southern sea otter, died today, Monday, he was the oldest sea otter ever in an aquarium or zoo.
Charlie turned 22 just last month. While Aquarium of the Pacific staff had been monitoring him carefully, he was still active and enjoyed his birthday March 2 by playing in the ice and with his ice toys.
Charlie was beloved by aquarium staff and a star with aquarium visitors, according to a release announcing his death. The aquarium will honor Charlie's memory this Sunday, giving guests cards they can fill out that will hang from the railing at the Sea Otter Habitat all day.
For those wishing to make a donation in Charlie’s name, they can visit https://support.aquariumofpacific.org/IMOCharlie.
Charlie came to the Aquarium of the Pacific in 1998, before the aquarium opened to the public, as one of the charter animals. He had been orphaned during El Nino storms in 1997, and was found stranded in Northern California as a pup.
Experts put Charlie through a rehabilitation program, but decided he could not be returned to the wild because he had not learned the necessary survival skills. That brought him to Long Beach.
Wild male southern sea otters typically live 10 to 14 years and females 12 to 18 years, but can live up to 20 years or more in a zoo or aquarium environment. Charlie was cited in the 2018 edition of the "Guinness Book of World Records: Wild Things" as the oldest male in captivity.
His long familiarity with people and handlers, along with a calm personality, led to other firsts. Charlie was the first Otter ever to give a voluntary blood sample. From 2011 to 2013, he was part of a study of how sea otter perceive sound.
In that study at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Long Marine Lab, Charlie learned how to enter a specialized acoustic testing area, listen for sound signals, and respond by either touching is nose to a target or remaining still. The results were used by the government in issues regarding ocean noise.
Southern sea otters are still listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and at one time the wild population had dwindled to 50. Now, about 3,000 sea otters are living in the wild.
For more information about sea otters, and the Aquarium of the Pacific, go to AquariumofPacific.org.
Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at email@example.com.