17 July, 1998

Myrtle Brijbasi

TEA/Alaska - 98

Journal Entry 8 - July 17, 1998

Alaska SeaLife Center, Ak

Good morning from Seward on this cloudy and foggy day. Even these conditions present their own beauty as the thick, puffy, white clouds drift past the mountain sides, completely blocking them out of view. Sunshine is promised later in the day, so we will not forget that the mountains are still there. Besides the routing cleaning and feeding sessions, I attended a very informative slide presentation-seminar on sea otters presented by Dr. Terry Williams (the physiologist who will be involved with the river otter project). Occasionally, the SeaLife Center features a visiting Scientist on his or her research-current or past, or involvement with the rescue, emergency care and rehabilitation of sea life. Dr. Williams spoke about her involvement in the rescue, emergency care, rehabilitation and population study of sea otters in the Prince William Sound area after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. She also documented how this catastrophe has interfered with the physiology of the animals and their population dynamics. The following facts were emphatically stated:

- Hydrocarbons from the oil are absorbed directly into the skin and cause liver and kidney damage, and blood disorders.

- Severely oiled sea otters showed liver disorders, kidney failure, and blood disorders. Many sea otters died even with the best emergency care, because the insulating air-layer of their fur became non-functional and they suffered from hypothermia. In addition they were too weak for continuous grooming, since their poor nutritional reserves could not supply the energy required for normal constant grooming and to generate body heat. - Sea Otters also ingested oiled food, and that too affected their physiology. - They died at alarming rates and were placed on the endangered list. However, the population is on the up-swing and sea otters are no longer considered endangered in Alaska.

It was an excellent learning experience about arctic mammals.

During the afternoon, we continued with observations and recorded same. We also visited the travelling Pratt Museum exhibit entitled "Darkened Waters - Profile of an Oil Spill". The exhibits were very graphic and disturbing especially the extensive damage of animal life and the environment, and the disruption of the Native Alaskan culture. It made me very angry to hear the recorded slurred speech and delayed responses of the Captain of the Exxon Valdez at the time of the spill, and the slow reaction to the clean up efforts even though volunteers and tasks forces were in place. Had there been quicker responses, the extent of the damage could have been minimized. All of this is now hindsight. One thing that is for sure, Exxon has learned its lesson, and has implemented a number of precautionary measures so as not to experience such a disaster again. They are also committed to protecting the environment, and the SeaLife Center is one of their commitments to protecting the animals of Alaska.

My day ended on a very pleasant note. I visited the Chugach Heritage Center for a cultural presentation on Alaskan Native legends. It was an excellent show and I learned quite a bit. The costumes for each of the scenes were very elaborate. On my way home I walked along the shore collecting kelp that washed up. I was also fortunate to see a raven up close, and a sea lion swimming in the bay. Both animals were unconcerned about on-lookers. The sea lion was moving very gracefully in the water. Here ends another day. See you tomorrow and then I will share some otter facts with you. Bye, Bye!!

Prince William Sound nine years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Waterfall just up the coast from the SeaLife center where many people come to fish.

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