Scientists continue to see large numbers of dead or sick sea otters turning up in the Kachemak Bay region.
Officials with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service say the agency has received about 200 reports of sick or dead otters over the past couple of months.
They’ve teamed up with the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward and they’re running tests to try to find out the cause. In the meantime, they’re asking for the public’s help.
It’s Friday night and Marc Webber, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Homer, has already had two calls for sick otters.
“Well I just was out on the spit having dinner with my family and a call came in as I was coming into the station of two otters ashore on mariner this evening,” he said.
Webber is part of a group trained to respond to sick and injured marine mammals. He’s Deputy Refuge Manager for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge which runs the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitors center in Homer.
“And so I was able to get to one of them down below the rock wall along the spit road and that individual is in very bad shape,” Webber said. “It is in a somewhat depleted condition, but demonstrating something we’ve also seen a little bit of which is a set of neurological conditions where it was twitching.”
Webber and trained volunteers try to keep people away from sick otters and get a vet to euthanize them when necessary.
“We’re finding otters all over the Homer area,” he said. “They’re found from outer Bishop’s Beach all the way around the spit on both sides and around the shores of Mud Bay, so pretty wide spread.”
Otters play an important role in their ecosystem, Webber notes – so when something is going wrong with them, something is likely affecting the entire ecosystem.
Otters were nearly hunted to extinction during the fur trade of the 1700s and 1800s and suffered again after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The sea otters in Kachemak Bay are part of a population that stretches from Cook Inlet to Prince William Sound. In the 1970’s they received protection through the Marine Mammal Protection Act and remain protected. At last count (2012), the Kachemak Bay otter population was around 5,900.
Cari Goertz is a veterinarian with the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward. She’s been examining sick otters.
“This summer started off fairly typical with a couple of otter carcasses or few otter carcasses being found every week,” Goertz said. “However as the summer went on into august and September we were getting up over 20 carcasses or moribund animals each week.”
“And it’s in those animals that we’ve seen different presentations.”
She says they’ve been tracking a streptococcus illness in Kachemak Bay area otters for some time and those otters usually appear sickly and emaciated. But the otters that have died since August seem different.
READ MORE: http://www.alaskapublic.org/2015/10/13/usfws-sealife-center-investigate-otter-deaths-ask-for-publics-help/