Three sea otter pups living at the Vancouver Aquarium were introduced to an adult of their species for the first time earlier this week.
The three rescued pups named Rialto, Mak and Kunik met Tanu, a 12-year-old rescued female, who has called the aquarium home since 2004.
The pups were all rescued last year after being abandoned by their mothers.
The aquarium's marine mammal curator Brian Sheehan said the first encounter went swimmingly.
"The first meet went well," said Sheehan in a statement. "Tanu and Mak interacted almost immediately and had some good bouts of playful wrestling."
Sheehan said the pup Kunik played with the adult Tanu as well — however Rialto, the youngest and most timid pup, was shy and held back from interactions.
Prof. Andrew Trites, who is the director of UBC's Marine Mammal Research Unit, said despite the fact these pups will never be reintroduced into the wild, this is still a crucial moment in their development because otters are social animals.
"It's important for young animals to be with older animals so they can learn how to grow up," said Prof. Trites.
"They can model their behaviours, they can mimic ... We may discover some of the adults want to mentor the younger ones."
Trites said the aquarium did the right thing by monitoring and coordinating the interactions. He stressed first meetings like this need to be done in a way that is healthy for all the animals.
"It's like a child going to the playground under the watchful eyes of its mother," he said — the mother in this case being aquarium marine workers. "You don't know if there is going to be a bully in the playground."
Trites said his research over recent years has seen an increase in the number of young marine mammals being stranded by their mothers. He thinks it's due in part to the way humans are affecting the oceans.
"I think we're going to see more and more otters stranded," Trites said. "The question then becomes do we have an onus to care for them?"