It has been a smooth recovery for Rocky the sea otter, following a landmark surgery. Last June zookeepers at the Minnesota Zoo noticed Rocky was not using his back left flipper and having difficulty coming out of the water onto land. The Minnesota Zoo vet team began running tests and started treatment for what appeared to be a possible infection.

After initial improvements, Rocky’s symptoms began to reappear and worsen in the fall. It became clear that even with extensive treatment, Rocky would not regain comfortable use of his flipper. It was then decided that the best option for Rocky was to amputate his flipper – a procedure that is believed to be the first-of-its-kind for a sea otter in human care.

Three Minnesota Zoo veterinarians, with experience in surgery with sea otters, worked together to perform the four-hour procedure at the Zoo. Having the ability to perform the surgery on-site helped reduce anesthesia time and stress, ultimately setting Rocky up for the best chances at a successful recovery. Within one hour of waking up from anesthesia, Rocky was back in the water in his behind-the-scenes habitat.

“It is very important for sea otters to return to the water as soon as possible after surgery in order to maintain proper thermo-regulation,” said Minnesota Zoo veterinarian Dr. Karisa Tang. Sea otters have the thickest fur coat of any mammal and can overheat easily, so being back in the water as soon as possible is imperative.

After several days in his behind-the-scenes area, Rocky is now ready to be back in his public habitat along the Zoo’s Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit, where he can be seen swimming with his sea otter companions Capers and Jasper. As he continues to fully recover, Rocky will be allowed access to both his public and behind-the-scenes spaces. Stop by this weekend to say hello and wish Rocky well.