We are deeply saddened to announce that our beloved sea otter Gidget passed away Sunday evening, despite the efforts of the Aquarium’s veterinary and sea otter teams to reverse a sudden decline in her health over the past week.
Gidget, a 10-year-old female sea otter who was a popular member of the sea otter exhibit and surrogacy program, had chronic health problems because of osteoarthritis in her hips, which was diligently managed by our sea otter and veterinary teams…
On January 21, 2013, she [joined] the sea otter exhibit and serve as a surrogate mother for four rescued otter pups before being retired from those duties in January 2017 because of her arthritis.
Gidget’s legacy will live on in important ways, though! She not only raised those four rescued pups, who hopefully went on to have their own pups in the wild, but she made history when her DNA was sequenced by researchers at UCLA - it’s Gidget’s DNA that is the model of the sea otter genome! The aquarium wrote in 2017:
Annabel Beichman, a PhD candidate… at UCLA’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology… is investigating everything that makes up a sea otter, down to its DNA. She hopes what she learns will contribute to recovery of a species that plays a critical role in the health of coastal ecosystems.
Annabel’s effort to sequence the southern sea otter genome (which she wrote about for us last year) is tied to the Monterey Bay Aquarium by one of our exhibit otters, a 9-year-old female with a blonde, gray-streaked face, named Gidget. Through the DNA that Annabel has been laboring to sequence, assemble and annotate, Gidget will become the embodiment of the sea otter genome. And the work is nearly complete.
“Gidget is going to be a reference point for future genetic studies of southern sea otters for years to come,” Annabel says. That research stands to help a species that has been listed as threatened for decades. So, she says, “Gidget’s contributing to the conservation of her entire species.”
Sea otter fans will miss Gidget, and our thoughts go out to those who spent their days with her, both sea otter and human. As aquarium vet Dr. Mike Murray said, “Gidget touched millions of people with her beauty, charm, and an exuberance of mischief. She is an example of why we do what we do for the animals in our care and for their wild kin.”