POCOMOKE – It’s been exactly one week since two river otters were welcomed to the Delmarva Discovery Center.
“Every morning since we’ve had people lined up outside waiting to get in,” said Stacey Weisner, president and CEO of the Discovery Center.
An aura of excitement surrounds the museum as residents from throughout the Eastern Shore make the trip to Pocomoke to get a glimpse of the new Wally Gordon River Otter Exhibit. The Discovery Center acquired two adult male otters, Mac (short for McKendree, Gordon’s middle name) and Tucker (Gordon’s mother’s maiden name) on July 22. Hundreds of donors and museum members got a sneak peak of the otters last weekend before the exhibit opened to the public Monday.
Susan Pusey, chair of the Discovery Center’s board of directors, said the otters made a tremendous addition to the facility, which is meant to be a living museum celebrating the history of the Pocomoke River and environs.
“I think it’ll be fun and exciting for our visitors,” she said. “They’re very entertaining.”
Discovery Center officials have been working to bring the otters to the museum since last year, when they realized the floor beneath the facility’s giant aquarium was failing. Worried that it couldn’t support such an immense amount of water, Weisner and her staff started considering alternative exhibits. It was decided river otters would be ideal, as they’d provide visitors with an entertaining display and wouldn’t require as much water as the fish.
Repairs were made to the floor and between June 1 and July 22, contractors worked around the clock to renovate the space. Parker Hudson, the center’s construction manager, said the task was difficult because rather than installing a new tank workers were repurposing the existing one.
“Water’s tricky,” he said. “It finds nooks and crannies to leak out of.”
The array of local contractors working on the project got it done just in time however, and the otters arrived at the Discovery Center July 22 after spending a week at the Salisbury Zoo. The otters, whose exact ages are unknown, originally came from Louisiana, where they’re considered nuisance animals and were captured by a certified U.S. Department of Agriculture trapper.
Weisner said the Discovery Center had opted to take on two male otters because in the wild, groups tended to be made up of males. Female otters typically live alone or with their offspring.
At the Discovery Center, the otters — the facility’s first resident mammals — now have the run of a 6,000-gallon aquarium that’s connected by a chute to a dry tank with a stream running through it. Weisner says visitors have been awed by the exhibit, which they see just the aquarium portion of before turning a corner to see the stream and land setup.
“That’s the ‘aha’ moment,” she said.
Hannah Murphy, a wildlife behavior specialist at the Discovery Center, said the otters appear to be adjusting to their new home.
“They’re doing well for just coming in,” she said. “Mac is more outgoing and Tucker is more shy.”
She said Mac had already learned to come to his kennel to eat but that Tucker was being fed in the aquarium. She hopes to have them both acclimated to their kennels in the near future so that if any health problems come up they can be addressed.
“The first behaviors I’ll train will be the medical ones,” Murphy said.
The otters, which eat capelin and smelt, are fed three times a day. Discovery Center visitors are invited to watch the noon feeding. Those in attendance Wednesday enjoyed quite a show, as the otters played with an ice ring filled with fish.
“They had fun with that,” said Weisner, adding that the otters were also occasionally treated to a ball filled with apple slices.
While the otters are the highlight of the museum at the moment, Weisner says more changes are planned for the coming months. In September, work will begin on the Discovery Center’s new touch tank. In the room that currently houses Sarah the giant snapping turtle, a $48,000 handicap accessible touch tank filled with sea creatures will be constructed. Weisner said cut-outs in the base of the tank would enable visitors in wheelchairs to pull right up to it and enjoy the same access everyone else had to the water.
“We’re committed to making ourselves universally accessible,” Weisner said.
The touch tank is being funded with a grant from the Maryland Heritage Area Authority and is expected to be complete by mid-October.
Weisner says that between the touch tank, the otter exhibit and the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) room installed last year, the Discovery Center will be a prime facility for interactive learning.
“Everything is hands-on,” she said. “The kids love it.”
Pusey believes that’s just what the museum is there for. She says she still recalls the memorable educational moments from her childhood and hopes the Discovery Center is making those kinds of memories for its young visitors. She wants it to teach them about their environment and the role they can play in it as adults.
“I’m excited knowing we’re putting these things into little minds,” she said.
The Discovery Center is open daily. For more information visit www.delmarvadiscoverycenter.org or call 410-957-9933.