Saturday, March 3, 2012

Designing a Home for Otters

The newest addition to The Living Planet Aquarium is the North American River Otter exhibit. These playful and curious creatures are so captivating that you may not pay much attention to their carefully-designed habitat. Two months and much thought and creativity went into building the perfect home for the otters.

Aquarium staff used many resources of information to help them with this huge task. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums sets standards for animal welfare and management, including very specific and detailed information about how exhibits should be designed for different animal species. Utilizing these guidelines along with examples from other aquariums and organizations that have river otters, the staff designed a safe, appealing, and engaging habitat.

To make sure the otters felt at home, the exhibit was designed with natural otter habitat and behavior, as well as their safety, in mind. The exhibit has about a three-to-one ratio of land to water, a good mixture for otters. Since otters love to swim, a variety of water areas were provided, including a stream, two pools of different sizes, and a log slide. To prevent standing water, which can harbor bacteria, all water areas are filtered and the entire exhibit slopes downward toward a floor drain. Rocks, made of Styrofoam and concrete, provide places for the otters to climb. Real logs, leaves, bark, and river rocks are plentiful in the exhibit, natural touches that help make this truly a home for the otters.

A major consideration when designing the exhibit was how to make it guest-friendly. The largest pool and the stream were placed next to the viewing windows in the hopes that the otters would show off their water play to visitors. A pop-up window provides visitors with an up-close-and-personal experience, and the otters don't seem to mind. In fact, they've claimed that area as a favorite place to snooze.

The otters are settling in to their new home very well. They've explored every area, climbing all over the rocks and swimming in every pool. They love to sleep in the piles of bark and leaves. The only thing they have not yet mastered is the log slide. The otters will walk up and down the log, but haven't quite figured out what it's designed for. The staff is hopeful that one day they will. In the meantime, the otters have found many other ways to entertain themselves and visitors in their new home at the aquarium.

Photo courtesy of Long Island Aquarium & Exhibit Center, Riverhead, NY

While they get accustomed to their new surroundings, The Living Planet Aquarium is conducting a naming contest for our three new residents. Cast your vote between March 18th and April 15th by visiting

The river otter exhibit is made possible by

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