“It’s so FLUFFEEE!”: Otter 501, A must-see movie!

This article was originally posted at my Scientific American blog.

This enthusiastic movie line, lifted from the kids film, “Despicable Me“, about an evil villian whose heart is warmed by a trio of young girls who come into his life, is a very appropriate introduction to a movie that animal lovers simply must take time out to see . If you are along the west coast, the informative and stirring movie “Otter 501″ is debuting in theaters tomorrow! A list of screenings can be seen here.

“Otter 501″ is the story of two characters. First is Katie, a recent college graduate from the Midwest who is visiting family out in Monterey Bay California for several months. She spends time exploring the ocean and coastline and happens upon a stranded baby sea otter. The otter is rescued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Sea Otter Research and Conservation Group . The otter, Katie’s co-star, is not given a name, but rather a tag, otter 501, to indicate it is the 501st rescued otter by the facility.

While Otter 501 is the focus of the film, there are plenty of other otters in their natural habitat to be seen in all their fluffy playful cuteness, too!

In a modern day twist for the movie, Katie narrates the stories via her Facebook video posts. At her friends’ urging, she sets out to learn more about what happened to the rescued otter pup and ultimately finds herself volunteering in research about the otters, learning everything about their habitat and habits and how rescued otters are rehabilitated. Depending on the condition the otter arrives in, a decision is made as to whether it will be raised by a surrogate (and not come in direct contact with humans) or will be raised for a life in an aquarium or zoo. (See my post Non-native Chicago Wildlife for more information)

We follow and learn along with Katie as she joins a sea otter field research team where she is introduced to almost everything one can know about otter behavior; including grooming and feeding habits, the dangers they encounter, as well as how rescues, rehabilitations and releases are conducted.

I told you, “it’s so flufffeeee!”

Otter 501 is chosen to be rehabilitated and raised by a surrogate mother so it will be ready to be released back into the wild. The progress of a few other otters are also followed, with the reality that not all releases are successful tactfully incorporated into the film.

The filming of the landscape and the sea is expansive and gorgeous, with an appropriately lovely music score. There are a number of sequences taken with what seems to be GoPro cameras on Katie’s kayak and surfboard, so we feel like we are a part the action. Katie also films with her smart phone so we get the sense she is really wanting to share her adventures with US.

And of course, there are even more otters! Cute, “fluffeeeee” otters!

At its heart, this is a nature documentary, but filmed with a crucial human element, so we feel so much more a part of the effort to rescue and protect the southern sea otter, whose population has been mysteriously declining in the past few years. This movie would appeal to kids and adults, but I am especially glad that Katie, our good-natured, curious, and concerned heroine is there to represent and reflect the desire of this age group to go out, find a purpose in life, and also make a meaningful contribution to the world in a way that resonates with their personalities. I hope Katie will lead the way in inspiring people to help otters, as well as all animals.

Finally, I leave you with the inspiration for the movie, as discovered in an interview with Katie and the director, by some middle schoolers!