A stranded adult male sea otter found on the Homer Spit last Thursday had valvular endocarditis, a heart condition caused by a bacterial infection that has plagued Kachemak Bay sea otters since 1998. A beach walker reported the sick otter, and officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Kachemak Bay Campus monitored the otter for several hours before deciding to collect it. The older male otter was emaciated and could barely move on the rocks. Periodically he rolled over, with his front paws shaking.
Officials checked with the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, which collects and rehabilitates injured otters and other marine mammals, and they were told to make the call about what to do. They decided to have the otter picked up and euthanized, said Deborah Boege-Tobin, assistant professor of biology, Kachemak Bay Campus, Kenai Peninsula Campus, University of Alaska Anchorage. The otter was euthanized at the Homer Veterinary Clinic.
“Ordinarily I would want it to be part of nature, but I was more worried it would be harassed,” she said. “For the animal’s well being, I figured it was best we picked it up.”
Boege-Tobin said there had been reports of a dog attacking the otter, with the dog almost getting bitten by the otter. The otter had no signs of dog bites. While watching the otter, Boege-Tobin said she warned a man driving a truck not to get close to the otter, but he drove within 25 feet of the otter — and on his return trip, drove by it again.
The otter was taken to Anchorage, where U.S. Fish and Wildlife scientists did a necropsy. The otter weighed about 60 pounds and had good teeth and a good coat, with no obvious injuries. In one survey of stranded sea otters between 1998 and 2007, about 250 were found in Kachemak Bay, with about 125 showing signs of valvular endocarditis, an inflammation of the heart valve caused by streptococcus bacteria.
Beach users who encounter injured or sick otters should keep dogs away and not bother the otter. Stranded or dead otters can be reported to the Stranded Marine Mammal Hotline at 888-774-7325.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.