Sea otter pup may get a Peninsula name

PORT TOWNSEND — The five-week-old sea otter pup at the Seattle Aquarium — a Facebook celebrity if there ever was one — could soon be named after a North Olympic Peninsula beach, town or river.

Thanks to a local otter lover, the pup and her mother, Aniak, are now splashed across a 17-by-12-foot wall at Gallery 9, the artists’ cooperative at 1012 Water St.

Port Townsend-based photographer Nancy Cherry Eifert has filled the space with her brown-otters-blue-water images, captured on aquarium trips that began when the baby was just 8 days old.

Not surprisingly, the otter wall has gallery visitors agape.

“I just had two ladies in here from Bellingham, and they were drooling,” said Cynthia Thomas, an artist working at Gallery 9 on Friday afternoon.

Such admirers may take part in the naming contest now through Friday at SeattleAquarium.org.

Marketing and mammal-team staff members suggested the following options for the new pup: Sequim, Sekiu, Shi Shi, Elwha and Willapa.

Willapa Bay is a wildlife refuge near Ilwaco, but of course the rest of those names are pure Peninsula.

Otters at the aquarium traditionally have been named after places in Alaska, but with the Olympic Peninsula’s otter population recovering, staffers decided to introduce some new choices, said aquarium spokeswoman Laura Austin.

Recent counts have shown this region’s population is “in good shape,” Austin said.

A 2009 report estimated 1,100 sea otters in Washington state waters — an impressive count since the creatures were near extinction a few decades ago.

The winning name for the new pup will be announced on the aquarium website Monday.

“She looks like a Shi Shi to me,” said Eifert, who has devoted many hours to pup and mom over the past month.

“When I was there a couple weeks ago, she was using the Frisbee for teething,” Eifert said, adding that she’s watched Aniak care for her baby by holding her on her belly, “and turning her over and over again to groom every inch of her little body, taking a break now and then to let her nurse.”

Now and then, Aniak would lay the pup next to her on the water, and the youngster’s natal pelage — fluffy pup fur — allowed her to float like a cork, Eifert added.

A globe-trotting nature photographer who lives in Port Townsend with her artist husband Larry, Eifert marveled at how this otter pup came into the world.

“She was unexpected, an ‘accident,’” she said.

“Surprised as I was to hear this, I now understand. The aquarium isn’t set up for breeding, but for the rescue and rehabilitation of marine animals,” Eifert noted.

The pup had only a 50 percent chance of living at birth, she added.

“Because sea otters are born underwater, the pup must make it to the surface for its first breath; only half of all pups born make it there . . . Two strikes against her, yet there she is, a very fluffy 4-pound creature with the cutest button nose and eyes that are hard to see beneath all the downy fur.”

Eifert’s quintet of otter photographs are on display through March 31 at Gallery 9, which is open daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

The photographer’s website is www.NancyCherryEifert.com, while Web cameras and information on Aniak and her pup await at SeattleAquarium.org.

“I’d love to go back over tomorrow,” to take more photos, Eifert said Friday.

“She’s growing so fast . . . Dang, she’s cute.”

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at diane.urbani@peninsuladailynews.com.

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