November 2021

There’s growing excitement at the N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher. It's all about a small family of otters that may be about to expand, thanks to a cooperative program to help species that are struggling.

Since Otters on the Edge opened, in 2020, visitors at Fort Fisher have enjoyed the playful antics of three Asian small-clawed otters, a species under threat in much of its range due to habitat loss, illegal trade, and other factors.

This family includes Asta, the 13-year-old mother, Triton, her 4-year-old daughter, and Ray, a 2-year-old son. They came from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio. Since then, plans have been underway to prepare for their future — future families, that is.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) hosts a program called Species Survival Plan (SSP). It’s a partnership between zoos and aquariums caring for the same species, to support best family matches and thriving populations.

“Participating in the Asian small-clawed otter SSP allows us to connect with staff caring for families of otters around the country and identify needs for the larger population of animals in human care,” said Hap Fatzinger, aquarium director.

One of the aquarium’s otters will soon have a chance to grow her own family through the program. Triton, Asta’s daughter, has reached an age when she would naturally separate from her family in the wild to find a mate of her own. The aquarium plans to support this by transferring Triton to Sunset

Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas, where she will be paired with a male. Aquarium staff will miss her playful spirit but are excited to see Triton begin her family.

Meanwhile Ray, Asta’s young son, will stay to support his aging mom.

(While 13 might not seem old, the typical lifespan for these otters in the wild is around 10 years. Under care, Asta could easily live several years longer.)

The aquarium’s otter habitat was designed as a home for two separate groups of otters. Wild Asian small-clawed otters are territorial and will defend their space from other families. Keeping family groups apart models this behavior. 

Now, in preparation for building a second family at the aquarium, staff at Fort Fisher are welcoming two new otters. Leia, a 2-year-old female, has arrived from the Kansas City Zoo, and Quincy, 7, a male from the Greensboro Science Center.

As always, the animals can transition between public and behind-the-scenes spaces, receiving excellent care and experiencing new enrichments daily.

Otters are perennial favorites with visitors, not only at Fort Fisher but also at Pine Knoll Shores and Roanoke Island, where North American river otters are the species under care.

“These animals help connect our visitors to wildlife, whether it’s our native otters, or their Asian cousins,” said Andy Gould, education curator. “Through their stories, we can share the challenges that otters and other species are facing globally.”

Plan for your aquarium visit. Online, in-advance ticket purchases or member reservations are best, as sellouts happen. Please note, masks are required for all guests, staff and volunteers.

Check out November’s AQUARIUM ACTIVITIES!


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