September 30, 2013 at 10:38 pm #512MikeKeymaster
Posted on Sun, Jun. 06, 2004
CAYUCOS – No. 289 blinked twice, took a last glance at his kennel,
and bolted for the Cayucos breakers Saturday when wildlife rescuers
returned him to the sea.
It was bittersweet: The clinically named southern sea otter was the
only one successfully rehabilitated by volunteers from the Marine
Mammal Center after a record number washed ashore in the spring.
“Releasing him is the frosting on the cake — it’s payday for us,”
said Sharron Jackman, volunteer with the local chapter of the
environmental nonprofit. “We don’t get any money, but the day you
open a carrier and let an animal go back into the wild, it’s all
She said she and other volunteers responded to about 30 stranded
otters — suffering from seizures and fevers — in early April along
the Central Coast.
The mass beachings alarmed authorities throughout the state.
“It was just heartbreaking,” said P.J. Webb, another local volunteer.
Scientists with the state Department of Fish and Game now suspect the
animals were infected by a parasite called Sarcocystis neurona, which
causes brain inflammation and neurological disorders. It’s often
found in the feces of opossums, and researchers believe it’s washing
into the ocean and accumulating in the tissues of certain shellfish
upon which otters feast.
Of the 30 strandings to which local volunteers responded about 18
animals died before rescuers arrived or could get help, said Karl
Mayer with Sea Otter Research and Conservation at the Monterey Bay
The rest were treated by the Marine Mammal Center and at the
aquarium’s otter unit, but only No. 289 lived, he said.
The Department of Fish and Game reported that 62 southern sea otters
washed ashore in California — mostly in Morro Bay and Pismo Beach
waters — during that month, either sick or dead.
That number was almost thrice the 10-year average and 50 percent
higher than the previous record of 48, set in April of last year.
There are only about 2,500 southern sea otters left in the wild,
according to Fish and Game documents, and April’s deaths represent
about 2 percent of the population. The animals, listed as threatened
under the Endangered Species Act, have faced increased pressure in
recent years due to disease from polluted runoff and oil spills.
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