(Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder) Explore the fun and fascinating world of otters – from sea otters to their freshwater cousins – when Wild About Otters opens at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on March 31, 2007.
Wild About Otters at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
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MARCH 02, 2007
By Press Release, Monterrey Bay Aquarium

Visitors will meet 10 feisty freshwater otters and enter the lush world of tropical freshwater fishes, reptiles and plants via a multi-sensory adventure through five dynamic galleries and an intriguing array of live exhibits and interactive displays.
Wild About Otters features six African spotted-necked otters (including two young pups) and four Asian small-clawed otters in exhibits that represent their native lake and river habitats. Both species are sleek, curious and very active. Visitors are likely to see an entertaining range of behaviors, from elaborate water play to ambush games.
The $3.6 million special exhibition, which is scheduled to continue into 2010, shows how wild otters – just like the aquarium’s ever-popular sea otters and like people around the world – need clean water to thrive and survive. Throughout the exhibit, actor and wildlife conservation advocate John Cleese narrates high-definition video clips that share conservation messages about the global importance of clean water and how lakes, rivers and oceans are all connected.
Wild About Otters is Monterey Bay Aquarium’s first special exhibition to feature live mammals, and its first to showcase over 30 species of tropical freshwater fishes and reptiles – including vine snakes, exotic frogs, box turtles, water lilies, papyrus, cichlids, bettas, catfish, gouramis, killifish, butterflyfish, pufferfish and archerfish – all of which share the freshwater otters’ habitats in the wild.
“People already have an affinity for mammals,” said Michelle Jeffries, associate curator of mammals. “So we’re starting with that connection to teach visitors more about the world’s many otter species and how they’re doing in the wild.”
Visitors to Wild About Otters will meet one family and one pair of African spotted-necked otters – Denny and Neema and their two pups (Kazana and Ajabu) and Kipenzi and Kamili – as well as two sets of Asian small-clawed otter brothers: Satu and Dua, and Tiga and Empat (“one,” “two” “three” and “four” in the Malay language). The aquarium acquired the adult otters as part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan program (SSP), a cooperative effort among AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to ensure the survival of threatened and endangered wildlife species through breeding programs, research, public education, reintroduction and field projects.
Visitors will quickly learn personal details about the lives of the ten freshwater otters via interactive graphic panels at the live exhibits. Each panel tells the otters’ personal stories through caretaker’s journals, video and still images, touchable models and other displays.
Jaci Tomulonis, exhibit developer/writer, said the exhibition takes a storytelling approach so visitors will learn not only about the otters’ natural history and native habitat, but also about their favorite foods, what certain behaviors mean and details of their journey to the aquarium.
“They’ll come to know these animals personally, and hopefully learn to care for them and their kind,” she said. “We hope that the stories will strengthen our visitors’ connection to these animals.”
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of only five institutions in the U.S. to exhibit African spotted-necked otters – a species is known for its animated water play and high-speed chases. Jeffries said she knew right away she wanted to feature spotted-necked otters in Wild About Otters as soon as she met Denny, Neema, Kipenzi and Kamili at the San Diego Zoo.
“I’m enthralled by their energy, their conniving minds and their crowd-pleasing antics,” she said.
While Asian small-clawed otters are more common at American zoos and aquariums, they’re always visitor favorites. Wild About Otters features two sets of brothers – 4 and 5 years old, respectively – that are on loan from the Singapore Zoo.
“I wanted a bachelor group because of their energy level and amazing social behavior,” Jeffries said. “These boys are active, kinetic and very vocal.”
While the focus of Wild About Otters is on freshwater otters, that doesn’t mean sea otters – the Central Coast’s endearing icons – are ignored. At the entrance to Wild About Otters, exhibits overlooking Monterey Bay explore stories of local sea otters and highlight the work of aquarium researchers who study sea otters in the wild. Another exhibit illustrates the differences between sea otters and freshwater otters.
One large and colorful gallery of interactive displays introduces visitors to all 13 species of otters found throughout the world – from the giant otter of South America to the feisty North American river otter – and the characteristics unique to each species. Highlights include a special mirror that lets visitors see themselves as a hairy-nosed otter; a life-sized model of and audio clips of sounds made by a giant otter; a crawl-through tangle of mangrove roots, and video clips showing the difference between skill-building and play behaviors in North American river otters.
Other live exhibits in Wild About Otters explore African lake and Asian river habitats teeming with life, from feathery water plants and ferns, to slender vine snakes, exotic frogs and a rainbow of tropical freshwater fishes, many of which will be familiar to home aquarists – including cichlids, bettas, tetras, catfish, rasboras and gouramis.
One sure favorite will be the archerfish exhibit. These angular silver and black striped fish spit water to dislodge unwary prey from trees and plants above the water’s surface – sometimes scoring a hit at distances up to four feet away! This exhibit is designed so visitors can watch this remarkable behavior.
Another highlight: the exhibit of Asian vine snakes, where sleek, bright green snakes live in trees but eat fish that they capture by plunging their heads into water. This exhibit, too, is designed so visitors can watch them hunt.
In a Discovery Art Room, visitors can create detailed scrapbooks as souvenirs of their Wild About Otters experience using stamps that depict images of freshwater otters and other animals that share their habitats, like hippos, crocodiles and egrets. A live exhibit features exotic Asian frogs, such as the Vietnamese giant tree frog, Bornean horned frog, Chinese gliding frog, White’s tree frog or Vietnamese mossy frog.
Wild About Otters is included with regular aquarium admission of $24.95 adult; $22.95 senior (65+) and student (full-time college, with I.D.); and $15.95 children 3-12 and the disabled. (2007 rates) Children under 3 are admitted free of charge. Discounted tickets for members of the military and their families can be purchased in advance at many California and Nevada installations.
The aquarium is located on historic Cannery Row in Monterey. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and in summer and major holiday periods from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (closed Christmas Day). Summer hours include extended weekend hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, between May 26 and September 3.
More information about Wild About Otters and the aquarium in general is available online at Monterey Bay Aquarium's web site; or by calling (831) 648-4888. Advance tickets can be purchased online; by phone from the aquarium at 1-800-756-3737; and all Northern California Tickets.com outlets or by phone at 800-225-2277. Seasonal specials, details about special events and programs, family activities and live web cams can all be found online at Monterey Bay Aquarium's web site.
The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans.