On December 21, the baby sea otter was born in the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Tide Pool. The day after the birth, aquarium staff were able to capture video of the newborn snuggling up to mom and trying to catch a nap on her tummy:https://www.facebook.com/montereybayaquarium/videos/10153752781752482/
This unusual occurrence is a big deal for more than just the cuteness factor. Sea otters generally spend their lives out in the kelp forests of the Bay, and while often seen from the Aquarium's observation decks, they only occasionally visit the Tide Pool. To have one venture in to give birth is even more rare.
A female won't begin producing offspring until she is four or five years old and after a four to five month gestation period, she will only have one pup. All of this takes place in the relative safety of the kelp forest.
Since young otters don't learn to swim until they are around a month old and their fur traps so much air that they are unable to dive, mom will wrap her three to five pound newborn in the kelp while she hunts. This leaves the pup open to being attacked by predators such as sharks. At least the Tide Pool pup will have a brief moment of safety before heading out into the dangerous environment of the Bay.
The sea otters of the California coast are considered "threatened", so each pup that survives is a small boost to the survival of the species. Otters are an integral part of the Bay's ecosystem and if their numbers grow too small the effects could wreak havoc. They help to preserve the kelp forests by controlling the populations of sea urchins that dine on the giant aquatic plants.
They also keep the estuary healthy. Otters eat the crabs, which in turn eat the sea slugs. If the sea slugs go, then the estuary will become coated with algae which will kill off the eelgrass and thus the ecosystem. Hopefully the visitors at the Monterey Bay Aquarium that are fortunate enough to see this tiny miracle will walk away with the feeling that these creatures need to be protected, and not just because they are adorable.