A California aquarium vaccinated 8 sea otters against COVID-19 because they might be susceptible to the virus

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Otter grasping fish in river
A wild otter feeds on fish at Marina bay reservoir in Singapore on October 3, 2016.ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has vaccinated eight sea otters against the coronavirus.

  • The zoo chose to vaccinate its otters because of evidence that they're susceptible to the virus.

  • Sea otters find food on the sea floor, so lethargy and poor breathing from COVID-19 would make it hard to survive.

An aquarium in California has vaccinated eight sea otters since August to protect them against COVID-19.

"There's a lot of evidence that this family of animals — ferrets, mink, otters — are susceptible," Dr. Mike Murray, chief veterinarian at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told the Seattle Times. "We have an obligation to protect the animals' health."

Each of the eight otters received two doses, three weeks apart, the Times reported. The vaccine they received is from a New Jersey-based company called Zoetis, known for manufacturing animal drugs.

Four of the otters — Ivy, Abby, Kit, and Selka — are aquarium residents, according to the Times, while the other four are rescues who were separated from their mothers in the wild.

The fear is that sea otters — considered an endangered species — will contract the coronavirus and create an outbreak, causing the population to dwindle.

There have been reports of otters contracting the disease in the United States. Earlier this year, or example, an aquarium in Georgia said its Asian small-clawed otters tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19. Those otters exhibited various symptoms, including sneezing and coughing.

Monterey Bay is believed to be the first aquarium in the country to vaccinate sea otters against the coronavirus. The otters have not displayed any adverse reactions to the vaccine, Murray told the Times. "They don't seem to miss a beat," he said.

Sea otters dive deep into the ocean to find food on the sea floor, so if they're lethargic or unable to breathe properly, they won't be able to survive.

"The virus is respiratory," Murray told the Times. "A sea otter in the wild is an Olympic-class athlete. If they can't touch the bottom, they will starve. They've got to be able to breathe effectively so they can hunt."

A zoo in Ohio is planning to vaccinate 16 species of animals, from its Sumatran tigers to lemurs to goats. The decision comes after five of the zoo's lions tested positive for COVID-19. The Oakland Zoo in California has vaccinated some of its animals, like mountain lions and gibbons, as well.

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