The soothing sounds of waves combined with the antics of rescued otters make for the most adorable live stream experience that has been the source of entertainment and joy for many during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The live stream was started last summer by the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Rescue Centre to track the progress of the "criminally adorable" baby otter Joey. Since then two more cameras have been added with one under the water to watch otters swimming about. Altogether the cameras show Joey and his six other otter friends splashing, sleeping and otherwise being cute as all get-out.
Rachel Nelson is an otter trainer with the Vancouver Aquarium where the otters are housed. Nelson took a moment to speak with Vancouver Is Awesome shortly after convincing a particularly mischievous otter to give up a toy that had recently been eviscerated.
Lacking otter life skills
People are definitely still interested in Joey, Nelson said. “It's funny, it’s now grown from just people being attached to Joey to them knowing all of the otters and their personalities and how to tell them apart. We've got some very smart followers."
Aside from the day-to-day cuteness, viewers can also follow along with their training. Nelson explains that all the otters are rescued, meaning they were found alone usually within a couple of days or a week of being born. As they grew up without their mothers, they can't learn basic otter life skills like foraging for food or evading predators.
Sea otter pups are brought to the rescue centre on a case-by-case basis as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans deems them non-releasable due to their lack of those life skills.
“Sea otter pups are actually one of the most high maintenance babies, they need 24-hour care, they need bottle feeds every two hours, we have to teach them how to groom their fur, it's very very hands-on," Nelson explained.
Nelson says the seven otters in the live stream are about to become eight. Still behind the scenes at this point, a new addition to the rescue centre arrived two weeks ago.
"If people stick around and watch they'll probably see a new tiny little girl coming up in the next couple months," she said.
Since the launch of the live stream and the initial stardom of Joey, the 24/7 stream has amassed quite the following, which Nelson attributes partially to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's been basically allowing people who have an awesome appreciation of the ocean to watch our animals and learn about them,” Nelson said. “It's basically blown up, it seems like everyone wants to be able to watch some fuzzy otters in their downtime."
The otter’s Twitch stream is titled “🦦 Chill with Rescued Sea Otters 🦦 🪀 NEW TOYS 🐻 THICCEST FUR 🔥 HOTTEST 🔥 #1 Cold Tub 🧊🛁💦🌊 Stream :P,” and regularly watched by several thousand people. They aren’t just from Vancouver though.
"We have people tuning in from Europe and across the globe, if you're up for some reason at 3 a.m. and you go to the live chat there are people on there,” Nelson said. “They're analyzing the cuddle puddles that they see of all the otters piled on top of each other."
Nelson said that many fans of the stream have said the otters have been the “bright spot” of the pandemic for them.
"To be able to hear that this has helped and this has been a reason for some people to smile and have a laugh throughout the day -- because the otters are insane -- it's really great."
As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted across the province Nelson said she hopes the aquarium (which is under new ownership) will re-open so trainers can meet fans of the stream in person.
If viewers donate to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre or the Vancouver Aquarium the money helps the organizations house and help the various marine animals taken in.
If you see marine wildlife in distress, please keep people and pets away and call the Ocean Wise Marine Mammal Rescue Centre hotline at 604.258.SEAL (7325) or Fisheries and Oceans Canada incident reporting hotline at 1-800-465-4336.