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North American River Otter Pups Make Their Detroit Zoo Debut

The three new additions showed off their aquatic skills today, under the watchful eye of a Farmington Hills swimming coach.

The first otter pups born at the Detroit Zoo in almost 50 years made their aquatic debut today, with help from the Marlins swimming program. 

Detroit Zoological Society Executive Director Ron Kagan said the pups – males Slyde and Bobby and female Emmy – were born March 20 to mother Whisker, 9, and father Lucius, 6. The triplets double the zoo's river otter population, at a time when their species has suffered "significant declines, as a result of fur trapping, water pollution, habitat destruction, pesticides and other threats," according to a Detroit Zoo press release. 

Otters are natural swimmers, but their mothers start giving them lessons at around two months of age, Kagan said. 

To judge their progress, the zoo called in an expert: Mercy swimming coach Shannon Dunworth, who is Michigan Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association Swim Coach of the Year and National Federation of State High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year. 

"We felt that it was very important to actually have a coach here who could really validate these guys could swim," Kagan said. 

Dunworth was impressed with the pups and said "two out of the three are doing real good. The third one might have the right idea." 

Why award a swimming certificate to three otter pups? "I try not to take myself too seriously, and this seemed like a lot of fun," he said. "It's definitely unique."

The pups made a splash in time to help promote the zoo's June 22 "Sunset at the Zoo" fundraiser, which includes a strolling supper, live entertainment, an auction and a chance to see the zoo's habitats at twilight. For more information, visit www.detroitzoo.org/sunset.

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