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Our Promise to Jacob

May 16, 2024

Our Promise to Jacob

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Bridget Israel Bridget Israel

If you are a frequent visitor to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium, you were likely familiar with Jacob C. Otter who lived at our Sea Cliffs exhibit for 14 years.

Jacob was an iconic member of not only the Aquarium but the sea otter conservation community overall. After being rescued and rehabilitated in his youth in California, Jacob participated in a study at the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center on the use of Dawn® dish soap in removing oil from otter fur which gave researchers critical data to better develop methods to treat sea otters affected by oil spills.

Beyond his scientific contribution, Jacob was well-known among keepers for being the sweetest and most gentle otter. He was not a normal otter. While they look cuddly, otters typically have strict boundaries. Jacob, however, would sit in my lap.

While wild male sea otters live to about 12-15 years, at the New York Aquarium, Jacob lived to 20 years, seven months, and 24 days old. He was the oldest male sea otter in human care.

Jacob entered the late stages of his life in March of 2023. His care became increasingly challenging. We learned to give him what he needed before he knew he needed it (above, Jacob with felt kelp). We sat with him for hours each day offering him different food items to maintain a healthy weight. We trained voluntary medical behaviors to keep him as comfortable as possible. Jacob even learned to accept physical therapy exercises for his rear flippers.

There is an unspoken promise that you make to animals when you become a keeper to care for them, to support them. It is personal and individual to each keeper, this silent vow. The scientist in me would say that I promise to offer the highest standard of care to each species I work with based on data-supported welfare plans. The truest part of me, however, knows that the silent promise I make to my animals is to be their friend and their advocate, despite whatever challenges we may face throughout our time together.

Whatever each individual promise is, the core of it remains the same. Through every season of their life, we promise to be there for the animals in our care. We will not leave them when it gets hard, or when we’re tired, or when it’s too difficult to say goodbye. Over the last few months of Jacob’s life, I watched each member of the Aquarium’s Sea Cliffs team stay true to their promise.

When I think of Jakey, I think of the beautiful moments we shared together. I think of the gentle soul he was. I also feel immense pride for the standard of care my team devoted themselves to giving him. Jacob lived a beautiful life at the New York Aquarium and was loved and cared for through every moment of it.

Brooklyn, US Map It


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