A Marine Pup
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Not quite a nature documentary, not quite a docudrama, “Otter 501” is more of a fictionalized documentary.
Based on a story by Mark Shelly, “Otter 501” follows Katie Pofahl, a young woman whose interest in these marine mammals is sparked by rescuing a baby otter while kayaking in the ocean off Monterey, California.
So instead of taking the summer off and being a surf bum, she sets out to learn more about sea otters by joining a rescue group.
Talking into her computer’s camera and posting on Facebook, she creates a visual diary of “this otter thing … an adventure of its own.”
She discovers good news and bad news: The good news is that Otter 501 survived and is being cared for at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The bad news is that volunteers don’t get any cuddle time with otters, spending much of their time shoveling poop.
“Otters are the least boring animals I’ve ever seen,” Katie tells us as she follows 501, the pup she rescued. Placed with a surrogate otter mother named Toola, 501 learns to use tools, groom herself, how to dive, and master other skills that will allow her to survive in the wild.
Otter pups sleep ten hours a day. A senior volunteer must groom 501 three hours a day, because otters rely on their fur rather than blubber to keep warm in cold water (about the temperature of a refrigerator). A million hairs per square inch, it’s the densest fur on the planet.
A fashion fad for otter fur pushed the animals toward extinction. Now they are protected by law.
“The real wonder is how they survive out there at all,” Katie notes. But 501 does.
As Katie describes it, “The mystery, the marvel, the danger.” The life of a sea otter.