Motherhood's Tough For Animals Too

On Sunday all sorts of mothers will be opening Mother's Day cards and presents. Well, not quite all sorts. Animal mothers deserve some recognition on this maternal holiday, too, so here are some stories of remarkable animal moms.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Tomorrow, all sorts of mothers will open Mother's Day cards and presents. Well, maybe not quite all sorts. Ally Furlaud wishes that tomorrow's celebration could include non-human mothers.

ALICE FURLAUD: There's no better mother than a California sea otter mom. I used to live near the otters' favorite habitat on the coast in Big Sur. These round-headed, furry mothers tie their pups to their sides with ropes made of kelp, that hard rubbery seaweed. And they keep the babies tied there for a year, sharing the abalone and sea urchins they dive down for. You try tying kelp around anything, let alone a squirming baby otter.

But even the high seas don't separate sea mammal mothers from their babies. Two weeks ago, Stacy Flint(ph) helped rescue three dolphins stranded on a mud flap in Wellfleet on Cape Code. I spoke to her just above that area.

Ms. STACEY FLINT (Marine Mammal Rescue Operation): The calf was about 500 yards from the mother and the large male and was continuously vocalizing throughout at the rescue.

FURLAUD: Stacey Flint is what's called a first responder for the Cape's Marine Mammal Rescue Operation. She is a slim 40-year-old and she's one person to call if you're walking on a beach and run into a manatee or a whale or a dolphin washed up on the shore.

Ms. FLINT: One of our first steps in providing supportive care was to put the small animal, the calf, on a dolphin sling, and we carry that animal over to the mother and the large male. We put them face to face and they began vocalizing even more.

FURLAUD: That baby dolphin weighed about 180 pounds, so for two people, getting it into a sling and carrying it over to its mother was no mean trick. And monitoring a dolphin's heart rate by feeling the pulse under its pectoral fin is no mean trick either. The baby dolphin's heart rate was an abnormally high 130.

Ms. FLINT: Almost immediately after bringing the animals together, they started touching each other and the heart rate dropped to 110.

FURLAUD: Finally the responders were joined by six other rescuers. It took them six hours to release the 600 pound male, the roughly 400 pound mother, and that sizable calf at a location without sandbars.

Ms. FLINT: We wanted to be sure the mother and calf pair were taken together and both released from slings at exactly the same moment. The waves took them in different directions but within a moment they came back together. You could physically see them rub against each other, interact, and then head straight out to sea.

(Soundbite of whistling)

FURLAUD: That's Swede Plout(ph), Stacey Flint's husband, uttering the call of the piping plover.

Mr. SWEDE PLOUT: Very sweet call, although it can be very strident.

FURLAUD: In the 1990s, Swede worked for the Massachusetts Audubon Society on the island of Nantucket, monitoring endangered coastal water birds. His favorite beach birds were the courageous sand-colored piping plover mothers.

Mr. PLOUT: They don't create a nest, they just do a little scrape in the sand, and they line it sometimes with lovely little shiny shells. In a matter of a few hours that chicks can actually get up and scoot around on the beach and follow their mother. They weigh about a gram. They're tiny little cotton balls on these long tiny legs and they just scoot along the beach. And it's just a delight to see them.

FURLAUD: Piping plovers were doing alright as a species until off road vehicles were allowed on their beaches. Now they're seriously endangered, even though it's against the state law to drive on beaches during their nesting season. Swede Plout remembers one day when a young policeman was driving an off road vehicle on Smith Point Beach.

Mr. PLOUT: He said, I almost ran over one of your plovers. He said, I looked ahead and I saw these tiny little cotton balls crossing in front of me. And suddenly this mother plover flies down, spreads her wings out in front of the vehicle as if to say, I dare you to go any further. And he said, I stopped right there and I got off the beach and I haven't been out there since.

FURLAUD: Mother cats are often heroines. I remember once stray mother cat in the Swiss village of Rougemoe(ph). She carried her nearly newborn kittens one by one across the railroad tracks to the door of the station hotel. But the hotel keepers wouldn't adopt even one kitten. My husband and I couldn't take one. We were homeless ourselves at the time. And now all over America the animal shelters are bursting at the seams because so many people have lost their homes. How about naming Monday Animal Mother's Day, a good day to go to a shelter and scoop up a kitten and its mother.

(Soundbite of purring)

FURLAUD: For NPR News, I'm Alice Furlaud on Cape Cod.

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