CHICAGO – One of the last two sea otters rescued from the Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska's coast in 1989 has been euthanized at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, officials said Wednesday.
Kenai was euthanized Tuesday after a rapid decline in her health, Shedd officials said. Kenai was found as a pup, weighing less than 10 pounds, along with her oil-coated mother after the disaster. Her mother died, but a sea otter biologist was able to care for Kenai in a hotel bathtub.
"She literally fit in the palm of my hand," said Ken Ramirez, Shedd's executive vice president of animal care and training, who has known Kenai since he worked on a team of rescuers in Alaska after the spill.
Kenai was eventually taken to an intensive care nursery with other newborn, orphaned and abandoned pups before coming to Chicago.
In her later years, she provided much information to scientists about geriatric sea otters. Kenai suffered a stroke, underwent ovarian cyst surgery and needed a root canal. She lived to age 23 1/2, while the typical life span of a sea otter is between 15 and 18 years.
"She has been through so much in her life and managed to bounce back from it," Ramirez said. "I can't help but think of her as a survivor."
Kenai's death means that a female sea otter named Homer at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., is the last surviving sea otter from the disaster. Officials at that aquarium estimate Homer to be age 24.
Kenai was one of about two dozen sea otter pups orphaned after the spill, which dumped 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound along Alaska's southern coast. The pups were given to U.S. aquariums and zoos because they wouldn't have the skills to survive in the wild.
The pups, like Kenai, provided the opportunity to educate the public about the consequences of disasters like oil spills, Ramirez said.
"Sometimes being able to put a face and a story to what environmental disasters can cause is often helpful in motivating people into action," Ramirez said. "It allows us to open up a bigger dialogue."