NEWPORT, Ore. — The Oregon Coast Aquarium is caring for a sea otter found Tuesday on Cobble Beach at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area that may have suffered a shark bite.
Sea otters haven't been a common sight on the Oregon Coast in more than a century. The largest - and only - known population of sea otters on the coast are those in captivity at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport.
But the otter found this week is at least the second reported this year: In April, the Seaside Aquarium helped rescue a sea otter from a Manzanita beach. The animal later died from its injuries at a Washington state facility.
This week, Yaquina Head's Chief Park Ranger Jay Moeller spotted the otter and alerted Oregon Coast Aquarium staff.
Jim Rice of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network got permission from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to get the otter and take it to the aquarium in Newport for triage and immediate care.
During an initial assessment the sea otter was identified to be an adult male. Staff noted he was emaciated, with limited mobility and poor fur quality. It was determined the sea otter sustained lacerations and puncture wounds prior to hauling ashore.
While the exact cause is unknown, the injuries are consistent with those of a shark bite. The sea otter is being treated for infection, and husbandry and veterinary staff will continue to monitor the animal.
While he is alert and accepting food, his prognosis remains guarded.
Aquarium staff plan to limit human interaction "as much as possible in order to mitigate any stress to the sea otter and potentially prepare him for release."
“The next few days will be critical in his recovery path and we hope to see his odds improve daily, but it is too early to predict this,” said Jim Burke, the Aquarium's Director of Husbandry. “Our veterinary and rehab staff will do all we can to act quickly to improve his chances of release back into the wild.”
The Aquarium said the sea otter is believed to be the same animal observed near Yaquina Head over the past several weeks.
“This sea otter means a lot to many of us Oregonians,” said Brittany Blades, the Aquarium's Curator of Marine Mammals. “I never thought I would get to see a live sea otter living on the Oregon Coast until 3 weeks ago when I saw this otter swimming, foraging and sleeping around Yaquina Head.”
According to the Aquarium:
Sea otters were extirpated from Oregon in the early 1900s, as they were hunted to support the fur industry. While there is no longer an established population off the Oregon coast, individuals from Washington populations have been spotted in Oregon waters. These individuals are typically males traveling along the coast in search of potential mates.
While there is no established sea otter population off the Oregon coast, individuals from Washington populations have been spotted in Oregon waters. These individuals are typically males traveling along the coast in search of potential mates.
If you see a sea otter in Oregon waters or on Oregon beaches, note its location and report it to the Oregon State Police Tipline at 800-452-7888, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866-767-6114, or the Oregon Coast Aquarium at 541-867-3474.