• Marine biologists still stumped by what causes virus striking young adult otters
By Naomi Klouda
Sea mammal rescue volunteers were busy this past weekend in what was otherwise one of the fairest spans of summer in Kachemak Bay. Volunteers found two sick sea otters on local beaches and an ailing seal at China Poot beach.
The weekend began with a celebration: Tim Lebling, stranding coordinator at the Alaska SeaLife Center, traveled to Homer with two healthy seals to release back into their home waters on Friday afternoon.
“They were healthy and both were just fantastic,” Lebling said of the seals. “The release went well. One was a little stubborn about getting off the beach, but they got out there and did well.”
It was a different story for two sea otters found stranded on a Homer Spit beach. Lebling said both were sent to be necropsied in Anchorage.
“The first one had signs of valvular endocarditis,” he explained. “Symptoms include labored breathing, minimal use of hind flippers, and he was quite lethargic.”
The other sea otter exhibited similar symptoms, and Lebling took it back live to the center in Seward to complete tests on it. According to preliminary tests, it too seemed to be a victim of the disease that is blamed for the recent mortality of otters. In the end, the otter had to be euthanized.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist Verena Gill said they are on the way to understanding this problem better, based on studies statewide. “I have no idea how many have died of this as now we are seeing the syndrome statewide and we don’t get all the bodies. But we get about 100 in a year to the lab for necropsy,” Gill said in an e-mail.
Yet another distressed animal, a seal, was found beached in China Poot over the weekend. Biologists will need to complete a necropsy to understand what ultimately caused its death.
One of the sea otters rescued earlier this summer by local volunteers is doing well, and in fact will soon be flown to an Oregon aquarium. “MoJoe” — a 3-to-5-month-old — was wounded in the face by a boat prop.
“We performed a cat scan and found broken facial bones,” Lebling said. “We determined, due to his injuries, to not release him. But he improved well and now he is scheduled to go to the Oregon coast aquarium in October.”
MoJoe will be the third otter to be sent off this year. All are from Kachemak Bay. Skittles, a baby otter rescued in Seldovia last winter is now at a New York aquarium. Another was sent to Tacoma.
The Homer Volunteer Stranding Network meets each month, and is open for new members. Interested people can call Lebling at 224-6399. Gill reports a new iPhone app for Alaska marine mammal stranding reports that the public will soon be able to use.
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