Sea otter blinded by shotgun blast to reside at Vancouver Aquarium

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Vancouver Aquarium Sea Otter

A rescued sea otter that was blinded by a shotgun blast and deemed non-releasable due to his extensive injuries is getting comfortable in his new home at the Vancouver Aquarium.

After 11 weeks of life-saving treatment and rehabilitation at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, the sea otter, known as Walter, was moved to the Aquarium where he joins Katmai, Tanu and Elfin, three other rescued sea otters receiving ongoing care at the facility.

Due to the extensive nature of his injuries and his inability to care for himself in the wild, Walter was designated non-releasable, and his transfer to the Aquarium approved by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“We knew from the very beginning that it would be a long recovery for this sea otter. The injuries he sustained from the hands of humans left him unable to forage on his own and avoid predators,” says Dr. Martin Haulena, Vancouver Aquarium veterinarian.

“As with all rescued animals, our goal is to treat, rehabilitate and return them to their natural habitats as quickly as possible. Even with surgical care and intensive rehabilitation, he has come a long way but, unfortunately, the severity of his injuries means Walter can only survive at a facility where he is able to receive long-term care.”

Walter was rescued on October 18, 2013 after members of the public reported seeing a lethargic and uncharacteristically approachable sea otter on the shoreline of Tofino, British Columbia.

He was brought to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre where Dr. Haulena determined that he was riddled with shotgun pellets. As a result of the shotgun blast, Walter was blinded, had a fractured flipper and was unable to groom himself, which can be fatal for sea otters that rely on their coats for warmth.

Since his rescue, Dr. Haulena and the veterinary team at the Rescue Centre have removed a number of pellets, performed multiple surgeries on his injured flipper, and treated severe dental injuries that resulted from the shotgun blast. Because he is blind, Walter is unable to forage for food and must be hand fed.

“Despite being in grave condition when we rescued him, Walter has responded very well to the critical care he has received at the Rescue Centre over the past three months,” says Dr. Haulena.

“Although we successfully rehabilitate and release nearly a hundred animals each year, Walter needs to remain in human care, since he can no longer fend for himself in the wild. We’re able to provide a safe, comfortable home for him at the Vancouver Aquarium where he will receive the long-term care he needs.”

Sea otters in British Columbia were wiped out by the fur trade in the early part of the twentieth century, but thanks to a translocation of 89 animals from Alaska between 1969 and 1972, their population is now growing and expanding.

As a result, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has recently changed the sea otter’s status from “endangered” to a species of “special concern.” Sea otters are a keystone species in marine ecosystems because they help maintain nutrient-rich kelp forests by eating sea urchins, a species that can decimate kelp forests if their populations are left unchecked.

Source/Images: Vancouver Aquarium

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