If you’re a North American river otter, the 13,000-square-foot exhibition at Fort Lauderdale’s Museum of Discovery and Science is the place. You can swim in the deep and sizable pool, frolic among the rocks, scamper through the hollow log and nestle in the field of hay with two or three of your best buddies. Or, if you’re so inclined, jump all over each other in the water, diving and resurfacing in a jumble at heads and tails and backsides, in a formation the MODS crew has taken to calling a “cuddle puddle.”
Yes, life is good for Jafar, Joey, Linus and Terry, the four otters who have taken up residence at the science center. The mammals are as young as 3 and as old as 16, and they’re adorable as all get-out. They all have their own personalities and backstories: Jafar was caught up in the fur trade, rescued by an animal-rights supporter and donated to the museum; Joey was discovered in a raid in a private home, where he was living in a birdcage. Linus was raised in a home with Dachshunds, and still sort-of acts like one, raising and wagging his tail in an un-otter-like manner. He also sucks on his hands a lot and is especially attached to his blanket—hence his name.
You’ll learn all of this and more if you partake in MODS’ Otter Encounter, an interactive program the museum launched last December. For $50 (or $40 with museum admission), participants receive a 45-minute tour through the front and backstage sectors of the otters’ lives, courtesy of one of the center’s knowledgeable guides. Ours was Jake—aka “Jake the Snake,” per his nametag—who began the tour at the public viewing area, where Jafar and Joey proved to be quite the exhibitionists—posing on logs, scratching their backs on the hay, and generally acting like they were auditioning for pethood. They may be cute, Jake said, and it’s always tempting for the staff to play with them, but they are wild animals, and their manner can be deceiving: “We might get ripped to shreds,” he said, with a smile.
Jake then led us into the private crew area, where he explained the otters’ wellness regimens—one of them, like many of us, takes CBD oil—and let us peek into the refrigerators and freezers for a look at their fishy diets. The tour concluded in the otters’ expansive holding pens, where Linus and Terry paced, anxiously waiting for a snack. It was our job to provide it, in the form of slimy, slippery, scrumptious chopped-up feed fish, delivered through the gaps in the cages (gloves are offered for the less adventurous feeders, myself included).
Then, after Jake led the eager otters through some training exercises a la Chris Pratt’s character in “Jurassic World”—with a treat at the other end, the creatures were happy to heel, flip over onto their backs, spin in a circle and other cool tricks that would have landed them on Letterman 10 years ago—it was time for Linus and Terry to join their colleagues in the public tank for a spirited romp.
I could reveal more, of course; MODS’ guides are willing to answer any and all questions about the otter life, and I took copious notes. At the risk of spoiling the experience, I’ll end the post with this: Chances are, you’ll fall in love with these four guys by the end of the afternoon. Otters aren’t supposed to be pets, but damn it if I don’t want to go buy one.
Otter Encounters run Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1:30 to 2:15 p.m. at Museum of Discovery and Science, 401 S.W. Second St., Fort Lauderdale. For information, call 954/467-6637 or visit mods.org.