15 July, 1998

Myrtle Brijbasi

TEA/Alaska - 98

Journal Entry 6 - July 15, 1998

Alaska SeaLife Center, AK

The challenge of correctly identifying the river otters continues. But guess what? we are getting better. This is day three of formal observations and already we can differentiate a few of the otters by their IDs and/or names. You must admit, distinguishing individual otters from among 15 similarly looking ones can be very difficult. You have to focus on the specific ID marking. Here the binoculars are a must. It is however a great accomplishment to accurately identify one. We still collaborate with each other when we are recording observations for the sake of accuracy. We are also beginning to become attached to some of the otters

because of their interesting behaviors. Some of them can also be amusing when they play with each other - for example pushing each other into the pool, or wrestling, or running with each other. They also play with their many toys. The river otters are constantly grooming each other in order to keep the fur fluffed, and to maintain the layer of air under the fur, since that is their insulating mechanism. Every so often, self-grooming occurs. Multi-otter grooming is regularly seen and at that time they also rub bodies together, and touch noses. These behaviors seem almost ritualistic. Did you know that the river otters' incisors are like a fine toothed comb, which facilitates grooming? Well now you know. Their toes also help in grooming.

As the experiment time line progresses, new things are introduced to the otters. One of the things is for them to dive for fish the way they would in their natural habitat. Arrangements then had to be made for the availability of live fish. This resulted in a visit to the fish hatchery, since setting fish traps in the nearby coastal waters did not prove to be very successful.

During the p.m. session of the day, Dr. Ben-David took us to the salmon fish hatchery in Seward. The director of the facility gave us a tour and fully explained the operations. It is a very delicate operation since everything from facilitating fertilization to the ideal growth period of release to the lakes has to be done with precision. Even more critical is the collection of sperm and eggs and their transport from spawning grounds to the hatcheries. Water quality is constantly monitored and a disease-free environment must be maintained. There are also alert systems in place to identify problems, as well as correctional mechanisms should anything go wrong. The facility boasts 90-94% success of fertilization to growth and release. I was very impressed with the entire process and learned a great deal about aquaculture, especially farm-raised salmon.

Well, tomorrow it is my turn to assist with the cleaning of the outdoor lab and kennels, and to feed the otters. It would be nice to get a closer look. Dr. Ben-David also plans to conduct a special procedure on one of the otters for required data. Your guess is as good as mine. So tune in tomorrow and I'll tell you how it went.

Pilot (left) and Jim (right) at feeding time.

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