Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Baby otter gets first swimming lesson at Florida Aquarium

TAMPA — Gracie neared the water's edge with small, delicate steps.

The 7-month-old dipped her head briefly in the Florida Aquarium pool and then pulled back.

Not quite ready yet.

So the 8-pound river otter scampered back to the safety of a nearby cave Thursday morning.

The first splash in the deep end can be frightening when mom is not around to help.

A little smelt and some human encouragement would have to do.

"They're scared to death," explained Susan Gerros, a Florida Aquarium biologist.

Katie Jeffrey tossed a fish in the pool close to the edge. "Gracie," the biologist called out.

After several stops and starts, Gracie was ready. Found abandoned in Brandon when she was about 2 months old, she wanted that shimmering silver smelt.

She flopped in, grabbed the fish and quickly jumped out of the water.

"It's like trying to get my 4-year-old in the pool," said Tom Wagner, the aquarium's public relations manager.

Getting her to this point took three months of work. Gracie, a streamlined 2-footer, went in and out of the water like this several times, gobbling up the smelt, bones and all. Each time, she was a little more graceful, a little less hesitant, and a little more full.

"She eats like a crazy otter," said Gerros laughing. Behind the glass aquarium wall, trainers and aquarium staffers giggled and eagerly followed the furry mammal's every move.

River otters are cute. River otter pups learning to swim for the first time: really cute.

Within about 10 minutes she was journeying beyond the edge of the pool. Soon, she was diving to the bottom, clawing her way up embankments and exploring the water.

Otter swimming lessons are typically left to the mother. When pups first enter the water, they don't even know they can't breathe.

"Most of the time, it's water up the nose first," Gerros said. "They don't realize that everything has to be closed."

Gracie is one of about 30 otters, mostly abandoned, the aquarium has taught how to swim.

"She did really well," Gerros said. "We definitely know she loves water."

Gracie has one aquatic feat to master before she can go on exhibit: swim through the dark tunnel that connects the holding pens and the display. Give her a week. She'll be ready.

Baby otter gets first swimming lesson at Florida Aquarium 07/15/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 15, 2010 9:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Looking Back: St. Petersburg does the Calypso with Jacques Cousteau (July 15, 1975)


    This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on July 15, 1975. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos of the event taken by Times staff photographer Weaver Tripp.

    Jacques Cousteau (center), Sen. John T. Ware, R-St. Petersburg (left) and an unidentified man (right) speak to the media about potentially moving the Cousteau Society to the city of St. Petersburg.

TIMES | Weaver Tripp
  2. Hernando commissioners question sheriff's accounting of federal inmate dollars

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — As Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis and his staff presented his proposed 2017-18 budget earlier this month, county Commissioner Steve Champion threw out an unexpected question.

    Sheriff Al Nienhuis and the county fought over his department’s budget last year.
  3. Unused county property in Pasco could soon sprout community gardens

    Local Government

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Unused property in Pasco County may soon sprout community gardens that beautify neighborhoods and promote healthier lifestyles among residents, thanks to an ordinance passed unanimously Tuesday by the County Commission.

    A new Pasco ordinance allows the public to build community gardens and farms on county-owned property and also provides design, operations and maintenance standards for them.
  4. Treasure Island city manager search to start from scratch

    Local Government

    TREASURE ISLAND — City commissioners, disappointed with the number and quality of applicants for city manager, decided Tuesday to start over and hire an executive search firm.

    Treasure Island Commissioner Ken Keys thought adding former Madeira Beach city manager Shane Crawford to the pool would "bring a little too much drama.''
  5. Family escapes fire that destroys New Tampa home


    A family is safe after an overnight fire destroyed a single-story home in New Tampa on Thursday, according to Tampa Fire Rescue.

    An overnight house fire destroyed a home at 10265 Estuary Dr in New Tampa on Thursday. The family's smoke detectors helped everyone get out of the house safely, fire officials said. [Tampa Fire Rescue]