18 July, 1998

Myrtle Brijbasi

TEA/Alaska - 98

Journal Entry 9 - July 18, 1998

Alaska SeaLife Center, AK

Hello from Seward everyone! Things are going great at this end. As promised, I would like to share some river otter facts with you. Did you know that river otters and sea otters have distinct differences? These are listed below.


- semi-aquatic mammals

- 10 kg average adult weight

- sharper and more pointed molars adapted for eating fish

- longer tail

- thinner fur (40,000-50,000 hairs per square cm)

- shorter hair length

- do not float on their backs

- webbed feet adapted for swimming and walking

- pointed face

- more multi-otter grooming (sociable)


- fully aquatic mammals

- five times larger than river otters

- flattened molars adapted to eating mainly shellfish

- shorter tail

- thicker fur - 100,000-300,000 hairs per square centimeter

- longer hair length

- floats on its back

- flipper like feet adapted for swimming

- rounder face

- more self grooming

*River otters are graceful swimmers and have ears with valvular flaps that close under water.

Sea otter population was drastically affected by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the species was listed as endangered. Recent studies have indicated that they are no longer endangered. Thanks to the emergency care and rehabilitation over the last eight years. There is no current information on the river otter population. River otters are very important to the ecosystem since their fecal deposits on land contribute largely to the nitrogenous compounds on forest floors - fixed in plants, or available for circulation. The only thing that is known is that the hydrocarbons in oil cause liver damage, anemia, and subsequent death in both sea and river otters. Hence the river otter project will enlighten us on this special population of unique mammals.

Today was a very interesting day. For the first time ever, 220 live salmon for the otters were brought in to the SeaLife Center from Homer (171 miles away). The operation/process was very critical. The temperature and salinity had to be ideal and the oxygen flow had to be maintained in the tanks of fish. Kudos go out to Olav for his brilliance in establishing a system that would ensure this!!!! Only one fish did not make it. Transferring the fish from the tanks in which they came, to the holding tanks in which they would be kept, was also critical. However, by the time the truck arrived, everything was ready and there were many hands and bodies to successfully complete the operation.

Among the batch of live fish, 5 were injured. They were placed into the large diving pool in the outdoor laboratory (ODL-5) for the otters. Well, from then on it was show time. The otters were curious about the fast moving objects in the pool and we were even more curious to find out how the otters would respond. A number of the otters instinctively started diving into the pool and chasing the fish. Babkin caught the first fish, Hans caught the second, and Porcy (Por-key) caught the third fish. Two unidentified otters caught the other two fish (being wet, it was difficult to identify their markings). Most of the other otters came around to feast on the catch of the day. No doubt we were very excited to witness this behavior of the otters, the reason being that the other objectives of the experimental design were to investigate diving ability and foraging success. Can you imagine Dr. Ben-David's degree of excitement, and this was only a trial run? Obviously there are positive trends to look forward to.

Being focussed on the aforementioned activities of the evening, no one paid attention to time. As the excitement waned and we left for home, we found ourselves facing a beautiful sunset - a tapestry of blue and white with varying shades of orange.

After a brief showcase of colors, the sunset faded behind the mountains. What a beautiful way to end a day of successful events!

River otter with fish.

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