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River Otter Pups Take Their Swim Lessons Outside

Posted by Kirsten Pisto, communications
Photos and video by Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Woodland Park Zoo


Squeeeeee! Our four little river otter pups have advanced to the big pool! They are now swimming, dipping, splashing and diving in (and out of) their outdoor habitat. The 8-week-old pups may look like floofy, wiggle balls, but they are already streamlined for the water. It's amazing how adapted for the aqua life these little pups arealready adept at swirling around and climbing in and out at the shore at lightning speed.

Of course, this class of elite swimmers have been practicing with mom, Valkyrie, in a private indoor den pool. Swimming doesn’t come naturally to otter pups—the otter moms have to teach them how to swim, dip and diveoften by plunging them right in! Lessons might seem rough when mom grabs the pups by the scruff of their necks and dunks them in and out of the water, but this exercise assures the otter pups can handle the elements when they need to. The pups have graduated the dunking pool and are now zooming all around the stream and pool in their outdoor habitat, which means you can stop by and see them!
The pups currently weigh between 4 and 5 pounds each, and are the most adorable 5 pounds you'll ever see.
This maneuver is part dog-paddle, part otter cheek and 100% working.
The otter animal care team plans to give mom and her pups daily access to the public habitat, however, a regular viewing schedule may be unpredictable over the next few weeks as the pups acclimate to the outdoor setting. Be sure to stop by the Northern Trail to see them in action and if they aren't out while you are there, stop by later in the day.

On March 16, Valkyrie, our fierce, fast and precocious river otter gave birth to the four little otterlettes—two boys and two girls. These baby otters are the first offspring for mom Valkyrie and dad Ziggy, who are both 5 years old. These auspicious pups are the first river otter birth documented in the zoo's 119-year history!

Incredible mom, Valkyrie, is somehow managing to teach these four how to cruise through the water and keep them all in order. She is amazing.
The North American river otters range is over most of North America in coastal areas, estuaries, freshwater lakes, streams and rivers; they can be found in water systems all over Washington state. Most of the otters folks spot in the Puget Sound are actually river otters! They love hanging out on the beach and searching for seafood treats, but are often mistaken for sea otters. River otters consume a wide variety of prey such as fish, crayfish, amphibians and birds. At the top of the food chain, river otters are an excellent reflection of the health of local ecosystems.

All otter species are considered threatened while five of the 13 species are endangered due to water pollution, overfishing of commercial stock and habitat destruction. To help Woodland Park Zoo contribute information to sustainable breeding, husbandry and public awareness of the river otter, you can adopt the species through the zoo’s ZooParent program. (We won't judge you if you adopt all four.)

Two otter pups learn to navigate the slippery rocks in the stream.
In addition to river otters, the award-winning Northern Trail habitat is home to grizzlies, elk, gray wolves, mountain goats and Steller’s sea eagles. The Northern Trail will be reimagined through the lens of the Pacific Northwest’s exceptional ecosystem and will open in 2020 as Living Northwest. Funds raised through the Living Northwest Initiative will create a new exhibit experience that will be a revitalization of the Northern Trail and will become a hub for engaging zoo guests and community members around discovery, species recovery, human-wildlife coexistence, and saving the wildlife and ecosystems right here at home for the benefit of every species.

To donate to the Living Northwest Initiative, visit and to learn more about our Living Northwest conservation programs, visit:

This precious little water weasel is built for the stream—short legs with webbed feet, warm, thick fur, a streamlined tail, tiny ears, and nostrils that can close underwater like boop.