Whiffen the sea otter fights for his life at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre

Vancouver Aquarium veterinarians work 24/7 to save a very sick otter. In turn, Whiffen teaches us about his kind. Not just a charity case, Whiffen is an investment in the understanding of biodiversity.

Whiffen the sea otter faces a tough recovery process at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre.

Whiffen lives... for now

Whiffen the sea otter is still alive... for the moment, at least.

Whiffen is getting treatment at the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre (MMR) out at the docks, near where they filmed the last scene in “The A-Team”. In this case, it’s a crack team of veterinarians who specialize in the ridiculous: nursing sick, wounded, and stranded animals back to health, and releasing them back into the wild whenever possible.

Real talk, though: Whiffen’s prognosis isn’t great. MMR manager Lindsaye Akhurst told a clutch of reporters on the rain-swept dock, “We’ve seen a bit of an improvement with him, but he’s still considered in critical condition." The veterinary team has a realistic shot of getting the beleaguered sea otter back out into the wild, but his survival is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Lindsaye Akhurst, manager at Vancouver Aquarium MMR

One sick otter

The otter's list of ailments include bone infection, hypoglycemia, anemia, alarmingly high levels of liver enzymes, and gastrointestinal bleeding.

Whiffen has also been exposed to toxoplasma, which is a big killer of California sea otters. Further tests are required to determine if Whiffen is infected, though.

When asked if Whiffen would fully recover, Akhurst's pause spoke volumes. She then replied, "We're always very hopeful for a full recovery. It's really early at this point to see exactly what will happen with him."

Head veterinarian Dr. Martin Haulina added, "He's in very, very poor condition."

Marine Mammal Rescue Centre vet Dr. Martin Haulina
Dr. Martin Haulina

Whiffen's back legs are in horrible shape due to injury and infection, and that in turn may have hindered his ability to hunt. This could have led to his hypoglycemia and extreme weight loss. (There's no indication, noted Haulina, that Whiffen had been shot or attacked by a human.)

Whiffen the sea otter: injured back legs
Whiffen's back legs and tail

He's been ill for a long time, said Haulina, which has exacerbated all of his ailments. His staff "have never seen a skinnier otter, and that is very, very concerning."

Haulina said that the key to Whiffen's future is most likely in his legs: heal his legs, and then Whiffen can start helping with his own recovery. Still, added Haulina, "I am very worried about him."

Of particular concern to the MMR team is Whiffen’s deteriorating liver function, of which Haulina later noted, “I’m not optimistic.”

Within the last 48 hours, added Akhurst, Whiffen has started to groom himself, and that is a positive sign; “but at the same time, we’re still trying to get him to eat more.” Whiffen weighs about half as much as he should. An adult sea otter weighs between 14 and 45 kilos, eating over a third of its own body weight a day when healthy.

Here is a video of Whiffen’s rescue. Warning: This clip contains full-on otter misery.

Why’s he called Whiffen?

Whiffen got his name because he was found on Whiffen Spit, in Sooke, BC. (Never play pool against someone named after a place.)

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