Pete, one of the otters at the Tennessee Aquarium, died a few days after being transported to a temporary training facility while a new exhibit is being built, according to spokesman Thom Benson.
In making the announcement, Benson also acknowledged that he knew of the death at the time he was telling the media that both Pete and a second otter, Delmar, had been moved to a private wildlife rehabilitation facility in South Carolina for acclimation and training with four additional otters that would be part of the new, larger Tennessee Aquarium exhibit.
Delmar and the four other otters have been moved to Chattanooga Arboretum and Nature Center so that they could be closer to home, Benson said. He said the aquarium delayed going public with the news in order to have a necropsy done on Pete and to decide how to care for the five remaining otters.
Benson said the necropsy tests were inconclusive and no cause of death has been determined.
"He got there and both were fine," Benson said in detailing the timeline of events.
"They got there and X-rays and tests were done. They were eating and vigorous, and within a couple of days he went downhill and died just a few days after arriving."
A week later, on Sept. 17, Benson told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that the otters had been moved and that the aquarium had begun work on the new exhibit.
The otters were moved to the Nature Center a week ago.
"After losing Pete, we stepped back to re-examine our interim plans," Jackson Andrews, director of husbandry and operations, said in a release from the Aquarium.
"It became apparent that we wouldn't be able to work from a remote location and still accomplish all of the husbandry goals necessary to open the new exhibit."
Benson apologized for not being forthcoming with the news of Pete's death, but said officials at the aquarium felt it was best to have a plan in place before going public with the news.
"This is the first time we've had something like this happen off site," Benson said. "We felt we needed time to get the test results and to get a plan in place. We wanted to get everything together, otherwise there would have been all kinds of other questions.
"It's heartbreaking, especially for those trainers and the people who transported Pete and Delmar."
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...