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The Otter Recovery Center

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Years ago, when the Exxon Valdez went down, I volunteered at the Otter Recovery Center- this is one of the experiences I recorded while working there among the oil soaked creatures:

The Seward Otter Recovery Center was buzzing with quiet activity the morning I arrived. I was given a short courteous greeting by the Center’s temporary president and ushered into a back room where I was gowned and given a set of heavy rubber gloves. My charge, I was told, was waiting for me in Intensive Care. I had already gone to a 6 hour orientation the night before, taken a quick test and given my placement and location. I thought I was prepared for what laid ahead. Before I left the room, a surgical mask was gently pressed into my hand and someone (also heavily gowned) whispered in my ear, “Good luck!â€

As I entered the Intensive care, I reeled back at the acrid smell of oil. In the center of the room, on a towel- wrapped gurney a sixty pound male otter lay lethargically on his side. His eyes, normally large, brown limpid pools of interest and merriment, now swam in a dull, opaque glaze of bewilderment and despair. I had seen these otters out in the bay when we were out boating. Their normally comical faces and humorous antics were always a great source of delight. My heart went out to this fellow who had become a victim of man’s greed. The handwritten card below this suffering creature simply said “Nixon- Patriarch of the colony.†I bent over him and whispered, “Hello Nixon, I am here to help you.â€

His naturally comical face turned up to me, I could see his creases covered with trapped oil, clearly mapping out a distressing journey. Balls of waste clogged his snout, his mouth hung open and he was afflicted with a raspy breath. The pungent aroma of petroleum lay oppressively in the air around him. Beads of oil played tag along his rumpled whiskers. Normally, his whiskers would stand up at attention, yielding only to the weight of the water as he hunted and frolicked near the ocean’s floor. Now, thanks to Hazelwood and Exxon, his vibrasse portrayed a sculpture of oil, creating a burdensome weight. His head drooped at an unnatural angle and his tongue lolled halfway out of his mouth. I felt a surge of anger toward the Exxon Valdez and tried to quell my emotions. Nixon was making low clucking noises deep within his throat. Thin streams of petroleum prowled over his tongue’s surface turning what should have been healthy pink tissue into an unnatural grey color. His clicking was a clear distress call, he had no idea what had happened to him. Last thing he knew, he was in the bay of Seward, Alaska enjoying the sun and eating his bounty of the food the sea offered up to him.

Away from his natural habitat, exposed to the dry air, warmed by the inconsistent hum of the electric heaters that were hiccupping in the distance, he was clearly confused and thankfully too weak to fight. I lowered him gently into a tub of warmed water with a few drops of Dawn liquid detergent added. I scrubbed carefully at the stubborn oil clinging to his guard hair, and pulled off a collection of debris that formed irregular patters and shapes on his coat; pieces of wood, clumps of kelp, a soda pop ring and fishing line, were cast aside in a strange mosaic, once the glue of the oil was loosened and the items could be pried off.

On the gurney where he had been resting, the gooey oil continued its journey, spilling over the surface of the table, seeping down the table legs and finally forming a pool of crude on the tile. Imprisoned by the suction of the oil caught between his webbed feet, the otter’s legs twitched involuntarily as I continued this gentle and cautious bath. Scraping the oil off him in layers, I was dismayed to discover a plastic bag in a sodden lump wrapped around his tail.

A pathetic example of man’s carelessness, this once magnificent clown of the sea, though he could have been a formidable opponent, offered no resistance to my care. Clearly this entangled creature who displayed such massive bulk and intimidating teeth could have lashed out at me at any time. However, when my hand gently touched his head with a warmed wash cloth, a hopeful look flickered in his eyes. It was the beginning of a foundation of trust that grew with each hour we spent together.

Nixon had a series of eight baths that day. The next day, he was carried back to the backyard of the center, where miniature pools and large sunning rocks awaited the otters, and the seals, and the sea birds. It would be in these pools that he would spend hours grooming his guard hairs bringing back the natural oils that protected him from the sea. I would go and visit him whenever I could get away, but my charges kept coming as more victims were brought into the center. Nixon was tagged and released a few months later into an area not affected by the oil spill. I saw him one final moment, the day before he left the center. He had climbed to the top of the highest boulder in one of the pools and was once again watchful of his colony. The sun basked on his coat, and I shared this golden moment of triumph with a creature who had left me an experience I will never forget.
post #2 of 7
Wow, Mary Anne. What a fantastic essay of your experience. And a wonderful tribute to this magnificent, if small, creature you saved.

Once again, a creature owes his life and happiness to Mary Anne.
post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
It was an opportunity not to be missed Heidi- one I will never forget.
post #4 of 7
I was in tears the hole time I was reading that . What a amasing story wow . I was reading a book of a lady and I forgot her name now , she was doing all kinds of rescue including in Florida when hurican Hugo (?) hid . That book was amasing to me also . This is so great that people like you are there to help the helpless who cant speak for them selfs . People like you are the silent hero's nobody speaks off . Thank you M.A. for sharing that wth us
post #5 of 7
That was touching hissy. In 1989, when it happened, I was 12 years old. I remember it happening and thinking about all those poor animals and the catastrophic effects on the environment. After reading your story, I looked up about the spill and found out there is still oil out there, under the surface of the beaches. They said that sea otters and ducks would most likely be more affected. They are still cleaning it up!

if anyone wants to know more, go here:
post #6 of 7
What an incredible experience and what a privilege to be able to help such a magnificent creature, I had tears in my eyes while reading. Certain sectors of mankind have a lot to answer for.
post #7 of 7
OMg! This story had me in tears! It was so beautifully written!
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