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Skatepark sea otter on the mend

With help from Jason Wettstein at the Alaska SeaLife Center comes this tale of broken bones at the skatepark. But don't blame the ollie (or any other skateboard trick). The injured party is a sea otter with a bite wound, the SeaLife Center's first admission for 2005.

SEWARD—An adult sea otter found lethargic and guarding a paw near a popular skateboard park on the shore of Resurrection Bay last month is recuperating at the Alaska SeaLife Center—and getting the spotlight as the facility’s first rescue animal of 2005.

After a tip from a skatepark visitor January 29, employees first kept an eye on the animal for most of the day to make sure it needed help, said veterinary technician Tim Lebling. “The way he was holding his paw and lying around, we pretty much ruled out a skateboard accident,” Lebling joked.

X-rays and observations that night confirmed infected puncture wounds as well as broken bones on the animal’s front-right paw—possibly from a bite.

“Basically every animal that comes in here is either injured, abandoned or underweight,” said public relations writer Jason Wettstein. “Most of the animals are rehabilitated with the intention to release them.” Because of its status as the SeaLife Center’s first patient for 2005, caregivers named him, “Uno,” Spanish for the number one, and also a nod to the popular, colorful card game. (This year’s theme for animal names at the SeaLife Center is “fun and games.")

Uno the sea otter has been under constant care since his arrival at the center, but he is not wearing a cast; sharp-toothed sea otters won’t tolerate them. He also needs to gain some weight before he will be healthy enough to undergo anesthesia and surgery.

“We are still determining the best way to address the broken bones,” said Dr. Carrie Goertz, Veterinary Rehabilitation Manager at the Center. “We are also treating him with antibiotics for the infection and keeping a close eye on him for complications.”

“Challenges ahead include getting Uno up to weight and giving him a good environment that helps him maintain his coat condition in a low-stress environment,” said Goertz.

So far, Uno seems to be enjoying the hospital food. While in recovery, he has been eating some 16 pounds of squid, clams, and crabs per day, or more than 30 percent of his body weight daily. His appetite is normal for a 46-pound sea otter; sea otters eat more in relation to their mass than any other marine mammal.

The voracious appetite can be a challenge for caregivers, who feed the sea otter once every five or six hours. For now, Uno is the only sea otter at the facility, said Wettstein.

Veterinarians also gave Uno a cardiac ultrasound exam, a noninvasive test employed to make sure their patient was not also suffering heart abnormalities noticed among other male sea otters in Alaska in recent years.

The SeaLife Center is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others to investigate heart problems as part of a comprehensive sea otter disease-screening program. The sea otter is also providing the SeaLife Center with biosamples (including blood and scat) to screen for a variety of diseases and conditions of concern in the Alaska sea otter population.

Uno’s heart checked out as normal; his other lab results are pending.

“Uno is a beautiful otter, but we hope we can release him soon,” said Lebling. “It is hard to keep up with him, and we always like to return animals to the wild as soon as possible.” Veterinary staff members are working around the clock to monitor Uno’s condition and keep him well-nourished.

Assuming his recovery and appetite both keep up, the sea otter may be able to return to Resurrection Bay in Seward as early as Valentine’s Day.

The Alaska SeaLife Center is a nonprofit marine science facility dedicated to understanding and maintaining the integrity of the marine ecosystem of Alaska through research, rehabilitation and public education.

- Sonya Senkowsky and Jason Wettstein

[Read more at Alaska SeaLife Center]

JASON WETTSTEIN / ALASKA SEALIFE CENTER | Posted 02.07.05 at 11:10 pm

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