The Seward Phoenix Log - News of the Eastern Kenai Peninsula since 1966

Stranded otter numbers remain high


Veterinarians at the Alaska SeaLife Center say there is every indication that 2016 will be another record year for their Wildlife Response Program following admission of two sea otter pups in the past month.

Already this year the nonprofit organization, which is the only permitted marine mammal wildlife rehabilitation entity in Alaska, has recorded 80 reports alone involving otters, and that is before the summer stranding season has begun. That number compares with a total 300 otters reported to the center in 2015, 116 of which became cases the center was directly involved in, peaking in September at a rate 16 times higher than for the same period in 2014.

Otter EL1620 was received into the center from Cordova March 7, following on the heels of otter EL1616, a pup stranded in the Kachemak Bay area. While sea otter EL1620 was observed to be a healthy size and weight, its stranding location and other factors raised concerns for the ASLC Wildlife Response Team who ultimately determined to admit EL1620. Pup EL1616 was observed in waters off Homer, appearing malnourished with other signs of stranding and an imminent threat of killer whales surrounding the pup.

Sea otters under six months require 24-hour watch. Typically ASLC staff expect to be on 24/7 duty during the summer stranding season; however, over the past 10 month period the ASLC Wildlife Response Team has been on the mandatory 24-hour watch continuously with the exception of 21 days.

According to ASLC veterinarian Carrie Goertz, there is a general increase across all causes of otter deaths and there are some indications that something new may be exacerbating the situation.

“It’s hard to say how much impact the uptick in algal blooms or the El Nino pattern is having,” says Goertz.

“However, the feeling is that it must be having some impact which is distressing since both are expected to continue this year.”

Currently the ASLC has six sea otters in residence. With the beginning of the stranding season later this spring, staff fully anticipates the trend to continue.

ASLC is the only permanent marine rehabilitation center in Alaska, responding to wildlife such as seals, walrus and sea otters. The center’s Wildlife Response Program responds to sea otters with the authorization of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Once a sea otter is admitted to the center, it is closely monitored by the veterinary and animal care staff at ASLC.

Alaska SeaLife Center President and CEO Tara Riemer explained, “We have no federal or state funding to care for sea otters, and we rely on donations to keep this program going.”

The Alaska SeaLife Center operates a 24-hour hotline for the public to report stranded marine mammals or birds, and encourages people who have found a stranded or sick marine animal to avoid touching or approaching the animal. Call first, 1-888-774-SEAL.


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