First Otter to Survive Oil Spill Becomes a Mom
A California sea otter named Olive has been making history since researchers found her covered in oil and near death three years ago. The otter, who is the first in the state to survive such an ordeal, is a new mom.
California Department of Fish and Game spotted Olive floating on her back with a pup resting on her belly. Researchers who have been following the otter say she is an attentive mother.
Originally rescued from Sunset State Beach near Monterey, California in February 2009 from apparent natural oil seepage, Olive was rushed to the marine mammal care facility in Santa Cruz for treatment. Oil is especially deadly to sea otters because they have a thick coat of fur to protect them from the cold rather than a layer of blubber like other sea animals. Once their coat is damaged by oil, the animal’s skin is exposed to cold water and generally they die of hypothermia.
“She was in very bad condition,” said David Jessup, the veterinarian who treated Olive. “She had probably been oiled for some period of time and had not eaten.”
Jessup, who had been researching new methods to help sea otters, used olive oil rather than soap to wash off the tar and oil from Olive’s fur. The method worked very well and protected the otter’s thick coat from the cold. Olive received her name in honor of the new successful technique.
Once she was fully recovered, the otter was outfitted with a microchip and transmitter and released back into the wild in April 2009. Researchers have been tracking her activity ever since.
“Few animals are available for long-term follow-up,” said Bill Van Bonn, a veterinarian at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, which rescues and rehabilitates marine mammals. “It illustrates the value of rehabilitation work.”
A 2012 Fish and Game and U.S. Geological survey found there are only 2,792 sea otters in the waters of the Central California coast. The species once flourished from Mexico to Alaska.
Photo Credit: California Fish and Game