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Postrelease monitoring of radio-instrumented sea otters in Prince William Sound

By: , and 
Edited by: Keith Bayha and Jennifer Kormendy

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Abstract

Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) that were captured in western Prince William Sound (PWS) or the Gulf of Alaska, treated, and held in captivity at the temporary rehabilitation centers established in response to the T/V Exxon Valdez oil spill were instrumented with radio transmitters, released into eastern PWS, and monitored by radiotelemetry. We undertook the present study to gain information for guiding the release of the remaining captive otters and evaluating the efficacy of sea otter rehabilitation after exposure to crude oil. Radio transmitters were attached to the flippers of seven sea otters released in May 1989 and monitored for periods of a few hours to more than 60 days. However, little was learned about the fate of these animals because the radio transmitters used proved unreliable. Forty-five additional sea otters from the rehabilitation centers were implanted with radio transmitters, released into northeastern PWS and monitored for 8 months. During the first 20 days after the first release of these implanted otters (n = 21), they were more mobile than wild-caught and released sea otters studied in PWS, from 1984 through 1990. All were alive and vigorous at the end of the 20-day period. Tracking of all 45 implanted sea otters during the 8-month period showed that the otters remained highly mobile. Many (46.6%) crossed into western PWS. However, by the end of the 8 months, 12 of the instrumented otters were dead and 9 were missing. One radio failed. These mortality and missing rates are much higher than those normally observed for adult sea otters in PWS. The death rate was highest in winter. These data suggest that, despite the tremendous amount of money and energy directed toward the treatment and care of these animals, the sea otters released from the centers were not completely rehabilitated, that is, not returned to a normal state. We recommend that future policies focus on preventing otters from becoming oiled, rather than attempting to treat them after oiling has occurred. This focus is especially recommended because of stress and disease risks associated with bringing wild animals into captivity.

Additional publication details

Publication type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Title Postrelease monitoring of radio-instrumented sea otters in Prince William Sound
Year Published 1990
Language English
Publisher U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 10 p.
Larger Work Type Book
Larger Work Subtype Conference publication
Larger Work Title Sea otter symposium: Proceedings of a symposium to evaluate the response effort on behalf of sea otters after the T/V Exxon Valdez oil spill into Prince William Sound
First page 400
Last page 409
Public Comments U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Report 90(12)
Conference Title Sea Otter Symposium: Proceedings of a Symposium to Evaluate the Response Effort on Behalf of Sea Otters After the T/V Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Into Prince William Sound
Conference Location Anchorage, Alaska
Conference Date April 17-19, 1990
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Prince William Sound