By Naomi Klouda
A baby female sea otter was rescued from Kachemak Drive on Oct. 17 after it crawled out of Mud Bay on a high tide and motorists found it on the road.
The otter, about 18 inches in length, had apparently become separated from its mother, said Debbie Boege-Tobin, an assistant professor of biology with Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus and a marine mammal stranding volunteer.
“Since otters are typically born in spring-summer, I assumed this would likely be a 4-plus-month-old, and therefore recruited Martin Renner, KBC ornithology adjunct instructor, to assist,” Boege-Tobin said. “When Martin and I arrived on the scene, Lisa Zatz was on site making sure the otter remained safe until someone arrived to assess its condition. I noticed it was quite small/young, likely 2 months old or so, didn’t appear to have any obvious injuries, but was very lethargic.”
Before placing the otter into a kennel, Boege-Tobin assessed her external condition for possible injuries, but didn’t find any apparent problem. She also didn’t get too much of a response. But by the end of the transition, the pup woke up fully and began calling loudly and repeatedly.
“We placed the kennel next to the water’s edge in Mud Bay for a while in hopes it would call in the mother. Unfortunately, once again we did not observe or hear any sea otters whatsoever in the area,” Boege-Tobin said.
“It’s tough out there for an otter to survive without its mother. Otter mothers do a lot of intense training to prepare them for life at sea.” Since the mother couldn’t be located, it means the otter will have to grow up in aquariums.
Two stranding network volunteers, Mark Tanski, KBC student, and Jennifer Rasche, KBC registration specialist, drove the screaming pup to Soldotna where they met a rescue team from the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.
“Other than being in a cold (you have to keep it cold for the otter) SUV with an otter pup who screamed the entire time, Mark and Jenny made it safely back to Homer and the otter pup made it to the ASLC,” Boege-Tobin said.
At the Alaska Sealife Center, the otter was placed in a new unit called the I.Sea.U, a play on Intensive Care Unit. The center reports the otter pup is doing well, “eating 35 percent of her body weight daily from a bottle, and interacting with enrichment items.”
The otter is between 6 and 8 weeks old and weighs a mere 8 pounds.
The I.Sea.U was designed for sea otters; however, its first residents were two walrus calves recently transported to their new homes at the New York Aquarium and the Indianapolis Zoo on Oct. 10. After a quick reconfiguration, the new animal care space was transformed into a sea otter nursery that can be viewed by visitors to the center through one-way windows. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine placement for the otter. Its stay at the center is expected to be short. Alaskans wishing to see the otter are encouraged to visit before the end of October, according to a report from the I.Sea.U.
“This truly was a community effort,” Boege-Tobin wrote in an e-mail. Several came out to block or redirect traffic when the otter was in the road, many students, faculty and staff came out while we were at KBC to check on the pup and even airport safety came by on several occasions to ask if they needed help.