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Saturday, March 01, 2014

Living With Nature

"It is still too early to tell if he will survive but we are doing everything we can to ensure he has the best chance for a successful rehabilitation for the eventual release back into local waters."
Lindsaye Akhurst, manager, Vancouver Aquarium Maritime Mammal Rescue Centre

Vancouver Aquarium handout
Vancouver Aquarium handout   An injured sea otter lies on Whiffen Spit, B.C. The otter — now dubbed “Wiffen” — is resting in a specially designed flotation sling and being hand-fed every two hours at Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.
Up until the 1960s, sea otters had been threatened by extinction on the West Coast of British Columbia. They had been hunted mercilessly, and by 1929 their perilous existence was threatened. Later that decade 89 Alaskan sea otters were brought into the area for an repopulation effort. As of 2008, 4,700 sea otters were counted in British Columbia.

Their numbers, on the other hand, have plummeted in Alaska, with tens of thousands disappearing over the past 20 years. Researchers believe that the Alaskan decline of sea otters owes to the concomitant increase in presence of killer whales. Alaskan orcas can eat up to 300,000 sea otters in a single season.

There are times when nature's balance goes out of whack, and this is one of those times, evidently. Recently, one of the descendants of those original 1960s 89 transferred sea otters injured a hind flipper. Sea otters must consume over 30% of their body weight in food daily. With an injured hind flipper, this fellow's food-gathering abilities had been fatally hampered.

It just happened that this ill and dying sea otter washed himself up on a Vancouver Island beach last Saturday, next to a popular Greater Victoria hiking trail. When he was discovered close to death, an alert went out to the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre in Vancouver. The sea otter had hauled himself ashore on Whiffen Spit, a peninsula close to a restaurant and inn, suffering from seizures, emaciated and close to death.

Sunday, atop Mount Seymour, photo J.R. Rosenfeld

Starting out on their journey from Vancouver to Sooke Harbour at 5:00 a.m. Sunday, driving through a rare coastal snowstorm, the rescue centre's van drove the 3.5 hours to Sooke. They stabilized the ailing otter and rushed him back to Vancouver. "We weren't optimistic that he would survive the trip", said Ms. Akhurst.

But he is now in "24-hour intensive care" at the rehabilitation centre close to downtown Vancouver. Whiffen, named after where he was discovered in extremis, is receiving oxygen, being fed by hand every two hours, and undergoing a series of diagnostic tests. It will take hundreds of volunteer hours, and cost an estimated $30,000 to complete the healing process for this sea otter. There there is no guarantee that these time-and-cost-intensive efforts will be successful.

Whiffen the sea otter is attended to after being found near death on a Vancouver Island beach. The Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre says it is too early to tell if he will survive.
Vancouver Aquarium handout     Whiffen the sea otter is attended to after being found near death on a Vancouver Island beach. The Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre says it is too early to tell if he will survive.
The Maritime Mammal Rescue Centre has been in operation for a half-century. It rehabilitates roughly 100 animals yearly, funded almost completely through private and non-profit donations. Their specialty happens to be harbour seals. They most often return an injured seal to the wild for a cost of about $2,000. A year ago the centre took in a porpoise stranded near Victoria, unable to swim. Staff hung him in a flotation sling, hand-fed him, treated him for a lung infection and applied physiotherapy.

It took 4,100 staff and volunteer hours, but Levi, for such he was named, was sent back into the wild in September. In October the centre treated a sea otter named Walter, blinded by a shotgun blast, off Tofino. It cost $30,000 on that occasion, but medics were successful in rebuilding his damaged flipper and teeth. Because he is blind he will live permanently in the aquarium.

CBC News
CBC News    Whiffen the sea otter was emaciated with injuries to his hind legs.

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